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CDFW Works with Commercial Dungeness Crab Industry to Protect Whales

The commercial Dungeness crab season in the central management area, which was scheduled to open Sunday, Nov. 15, will be delayed due to the presence of whales within fishing grounds and the potential for entanglement. In mid-November, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Director will re-assess entanglement risk in the central management area and evaluate risk in the northern management area, which is scheduled to open Tuesday, Dec. 1.

Following increased numbers of large whale entanglements in 2015 and 2016, CDFW worked with the Dungeness crab fleet and partner organizations to develop the Risk Assessment and Mitigation Program (RAMP). After substantial review and input from industry and the environmental community, the RAMP regulations became effective on Nov. 1, 2020. The risk assessment conducted by CDFW this week, in consultation with the Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group, is the first assessment conducted under the new RAMP regulations.

“While no one wants to delay the season, CDFW and the Working Group feel a delay is necessary to reduce the risk of entanglement,” said CDFW Director Charlton H. Bonham. “The fleet has gone to great lengths to be more nimble in order to protect whales and turtles, and the results are promising. This year for the first time in a long time it looks like we don’t have to worry about domoic acid, which is good news.”

In collaboration with Working Group advisors, agencies and other partners, CDFW is committed to collecting real time data regarding presence of Humpback and Blue whales, and Pacific leatherback sea turtles in Dungeness crab fishing grounds. Combined with an improved and consistent process for information sharing and decision making with the Working Group, CDFW is able to provide more certainty to the fleet as to the timing of potential delays and openings. When the whales migrate out of the fishing grounds in coming weeks, CDFW stands ready to open the commercial season.

The statewide recreational season for Dungeness crab is scheduled to open this Saturday, Nov. 7. Unlike previous years, domoic acid will not delay a season opener in the central or northern management areas. All sampling locations tested below allowable federal levels for domoic acid. The recreational season will open as planned with no health advisories in place.

The Fish and Game Commission will consider adopting new regulations at its December meeting that would give CDFW authority to address risk of marine life entanglement in the recreational fishery as well.

For more information related to the risk assessment process or this delay, please visit CDFW’s Whale Safe Fisheries page.