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SACRAMENTO, Calif. November 2, 2021 – Following an entanglement of a humpback whale in California crabbing gear and information showing many humpback whales are currently feeding off California, the state’s fish and wildlife director ordered a delay today in opening some coastal areas to Dungeness crab fishing.

The delay is based on data from the state’s recently created Risk Assessment and Mitigation Program. That program stems from a legal agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity, which sued over increasing whale and sea turtle entanglements in California fishing gear. Such entanglements hit record highs before the Center’s lawsuit.

Dungeness crabs. CDFW photo by Christy Juhasz.

“We’re glad to see whales protected from crab gear in some areas, but the whole season should have been delayed to prevent deadly entanglements,” said Kristen Monsell, legal director of the Center’s Oceans program. “The best way to help imperiled wildlife is for state officials to push through a transition to ropeless gear. As long as the fishing industry is dropping thousands of heavy ropes into California waters, crabbers will face delays or closures and endangered whales and sea turtles will continue to be entangled and killed.”

A humpback whale was found entangled in California Dungeness crabbing gear on June 9 in Mexico. At least 11 humpbacks have been entangled in various types of fishing gear off the West Coast so far this year, according to federal officials.

Today’s announcement will delay commercial and recreational crabbing south of Monterey up through Point Arena. The commercial fishery would have opened in the area on Nov. 15 but will now be delayed until at least the next risk assessment, which will come around Nov. 22.

The Center has urged state officials to hasten the transition to innovative ropeless fishing gear. Ropeless or “pop-up” gear uses lift bags or remotely released lines and buoys to bring crab traps to the surface without ropes running through the water for days or weeks.

Whales and sea turtles are frequently injured or killed by entanglements in the thick ropes attached to Dungeness crab traps. Each entanglement of a humpback whale, blue whale or leatherback sea turtle violates the federal Endangered Species Act.

A single deadly entanglement could be a major setback for some species. An estimated 50 Pacific leatherbacks now forage in California waters annually, down sharply from decades ago. Pacific leatherbacks were recently protected under the California Endangered Species Act.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places. www.biologicaldiversity.org