State/National/WorldFish Rap

California Implements Measures to Protect Whales: Changes to Dungeness Crab Fisheries

In a bid to safeguard migrating humpback whales from entanglement risks, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Director, Charlton H. Bonham, has announced significant alterations to both commercial and recreational Dungeness crab fisheries. The decision comes after aerial and vessel surveys conducted in mid-March revealed an uptick in humpback whale numbers returning to forage off California’s coast.

Migrating whales can get caught in Dungeness crab traps due to their size and trap design. This happens when whales swim near traps, becoming tangled in the lines attached to buoys. Entanglement can lead to injury or death. Measures are needed to reduce entanglement risk and safeguard whales while maintaining the crab fishery’s sustainability.

The changes went into effect at 6 p.m. April 8, when the commercial Dungeness crab fishery in Fishing Zones 3, 4, 5 and 6 – spanning from the Sonoma/Mendocino county line to the U.S./Mexico border – closed.

This entails a complete prohibition on the commercial take and possession of Dungeness crab from these waters. Additionally, a 30-fathom depth constraint will be enforced for the commercial Dungeness crab fishery in Fishing Zones 1 and 2, stretching from the Sonoma/Mendocino county line to the Oregon border. Traps used by the commercial fishery in these zones will be banned in waters seaward of the 30-fathom contour.

A recreational crab trap prohibition will be implemented in Fishing Zones 3, 4 and 5 to mitigate entanglement risks further, extending from the Sonoma/Mendocino county line to Point Conception. However, recreational crabbers are reminded that the take of Dungeness crab by alternative methods, such as hoop nets and crab snares, remains permissible until the end of the season.

While all open Fishing Zones continue to be under a Fleet Advisory for both commercial and recreational Dungeness crab fisheries, CDFW emphasizes the importance of adhering to best practices outlined in the Best Practices Guide. Moreover, under emergency regulations authorized in early March, commercial Dungeness crab vessels are permitted to retrieve an unlimited number of lost, damaged, abandoned or derelict commercial Dungeness crab traps in Fishing Zones 3 through 6 starting from 6 a.m. on April 15. Vessels operating under these regulations are urged to report any retrieved gear promptly to

While these measures may pose challenges for anglers, they are essential for the protection of migrating whales. CDFW anticipates conducting the next risk assessment in mid-April and encourages individuals to stay informed about updates related to the risk assessment process by visiting CDFW’s Whale Safe Fisheries page. For more information on the Dungeness crab fishery, anglers are advised to visit


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