The California Department of Fish and Wildlife announced on Oct. 28 that the recreational take of Dungeness crab using crab traps was temporarily restricted statewide until the season opened on Nov. 5. The decision was a result of the presence of humpback and blue whales and the potential for entanglement from trap gear. Recreational take of Dungeness crab by other methods, including hoop nets and crab snares, was not affected by the temporary trap restriction, and was allowed statewide as of Nov. 5.
However, the deployment and use of crab traps in any recreational crab fishery, including rock crab, is temporarily restricted in all fishing zones until lifted by the CDFW Director. CDFW is also reminding recreational crabbers to implement best practices, as described in the Best Practices Guide.
The commercial Dungeness crab fishery south of the Sonoma/Mendocino county line was scheduled to open on Nov. 15 in fishing zones three through six. However, the season opener has been delayed in those zones due to high numbers of humpback whales being present and the heightened potential for entanglement.
“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,” said CDFW Director Charlton H. Bonham in a press release form Oct. 28. “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 opportunity. We appreciate the ongoing commitment by the fleet and the California Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group to protect these incredible animals. These partnerships will continue to shape the future of both fisheries and we look forward to continuing the important work of providing fishing opportunity in the coming weeks.”
Before coming to this conclusion, CDFW worked with a wide range of scientific partners, researchers, agencies, and the California Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group to collect and combine information regarding the presence of humpback whales, blue whales, and leatherback sea turtles across each fishing zone. As a result, aerial and vessel-based surveys show collections of humpbacks, and several blue whales are present statewide. Therefore, under triggers established as part of the Risk Assessment and Mitigation Program regulations for the commercial fishery and recreational Dungeness crab fishery, the CDFW Director must enforce a management action for these fishing zones to reduce marine life entanglement risk.
The CDFW has stated that it anticipates that the following risk assessment will occur on or before Nov. 23.
Then the Director will re-evaluate the temporary recreational crab trap restriction and commercial fishery delay in fishing zones three through six, as well as the need for any management actions for the commercial fishery in fishing zones one and two. That risk assessment is expected to report the potential for a statewide commercial fishery opener on Dec. 1 and the possibility of modifying the recreational trap restriction.