SACRAMENTO, Calif. Aug. 30, 2018 — The California Senate yesterday sent legislation to Gov. Jerry Brown to sign that requires the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to adopt regulations to prevent whales and sea turtles from being entangled in commercial Dungeness crab lines.
West Coast entanglements have skyrocketed in recent years. California commercial Dungeness crab gear is responsible for the majority of entanglements where the gear could be identified, entangling at least 35 whales from 2015 to 2017.
Senate Bill 1309 responded to the crisis by requiring regulations by November 1, 2020, and directing the department to restrict fishing as needed until then to prevent a significant risk of entanglements.
“California has dragged its feet on preventing entanglements for too long. This bill rightly recognizes that officials must protect endangered whales and sea turtles,” said Kristen Monsell, the oceans program legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The department’s job has always been to safeguard Californian’s marine wildlife, and this legislation eliminates excuses. It’s time to get the job done and save marine animals from these agonizing deaths.”
The legislation, also known as the Fisheries Omnibus Bill of 2018, requires the department to adopt comprehensive new regulations to minimize the risk of commercial crab gear entangling marine life by 2020. In the interim, it clarifies the department’s authority to close regions of the fishery or take other actions to prevent entanglements.
The Center sued the department over entanglements of endangered whales and sea turtles in 2017. That lawsuit is pending.
“We’re glad to see California finally addressing this epidemic of whale and sea turtle entanglements, but unless we see substantial, immediate changes on the water, our lawsuit will continue,” Monsell said. “The governor’s signature will reaffirm California’s long-standing commitment to conservation of ocean animals.”
Entanglements in ropes connected to heavy commercial Dungeness crab traps cause injuries and death as they cut into the whales’ flesh, sap their strength and lead to drowning.
Many of last year’s entanglements were clustered around the biologically rich Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, where migrating whales feed. Each entanglement of a humpback whale, blue whale or leatherback sea turtle violates the federal Endangered Species Act.