California’s Dungeness Crab Season Delayed Due to Humpback Whales

by Emily Morgan
Photo by: San Francisco Chronicle/Hearst Newspapers via Getty Images / Contributor

California’s commercial Dungeness crab season is expected to be delayed to keep whales from getting entangled in fishing lines. This marks the fourth year the agency has delayed the start of the commercial Dungeness crab season to protect migrating whales from accidental entanglements.

According to The California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the department will push back the start of the commercial season. It typically begins on Nov. 15. The delay affects the waters between the Mendocino county line and the border with Mexico.

“Based on recent surveys, large aggregations of humpbacks whales continue to forage in California coastal waters, and allowing the use of crab traps would increase the risk of an entanglement,” Fish and Wildlife Director Charlton H. Bonham said in an official statement.

He added: “We will continue to work with both the recreational and commercial Dungeness crab fisheries to protect whales and sea turtles while striving to maximize fishing opportunities. We appreciate the ongoing commitment by the fleet and the California Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group to protect these incredible animals.”

The department also said it would release another assessment on the presence of threatened whales on or around November 23. Then, it will decide whether commercial Dungeness crab fishing can begin in the area.

More than 300,000 cetaceans — a group of animals made up of whales, dolphins, and porpoises — die yearly as a result of being tangled in fishing gear.

New research conducted by the University of St. Andrews in Scotland revealed that as many as 60% of blue and fin whales would end up entwined at some point in their lives.

California’s Dungeness crab season delayed for fourth year in a row

In addition, this statistic jumps to 80% when studying humpback whale populations. These findings were from data obtained via drone and on-the-water observations of dorsal scars on the animals.

In 2021, the Dungeness crab season also ended early out of worry surrounding whale endangerment. From 2015 to 2020, more than 280 whales were found entangled off the country’s West Coast — mainly off California. In addition, the numbers have remained lower than average since officials enforced measures like these.

Before 2018, it was common for whales to collide with a vessel or become entangled with fishing gear. However, over the past four years, that number has been cut in half. This is somewhat due to the timing of the state’s Dungeness crab season. The department implements aerial surveys and studies feeding and migration patterns to assess the risks.

Once CDFW conducts another risk assessment, the department will re-evaluate the temporary restrictions across the state.

However, the current restrictions aren’t relevant to the recreational fishing of Dungeness crabs that use less dangerous methods to catch marine life, like hoop nets and crab snares. Those fishing methods are allowed statewide starting Nov. 5.