Calif. Closes Dungeness Crab Fisheries Early to Minimize Whale Entanglements

A map of California’s fishing regions. Image: California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) closed its commercial and recreational Dungeness crab fisheries early this year, on April 8, following aerial and vessel surveys showing that humpback whale numbers are rising as they return to forage off the California coast.

CDFW, which made the announcement on March 28, said the closures were effective in Fishing Zones 3, 4, 5 and 6, from the Sonoma/Mendocino County line to the U.S.-Mexico border, plus a 30-fathom depth constraint for commercial Dungeness crab fisheries in Zones 1 and 2, from the Sonoma/Mendocino County line to the Oregon border.

Traps used by commercial fishers in Zones 1 and 2 were prohibited in waters seaward of the 30-fathomn contour.

The nonprofit ocean conservation organization Oceana applauded the early closure decision, but expressed concern that leaving the fishery open in the north would put whales returning to feed at risk of entanglement on top of the already excessive numbers reported. 

Geoff Shester, Oceana’s California campaign director and senior scientist, said that not closing the fishery statewide likely means there would be more deadly whale entanglements this spring.

“We need stricter closures to vertical line gear, comprehensive line marking, new measures to prevent lost fishing gear and approval of ropeless gear to allow continued fishing in the spring,” he said.  

Oceana noted that the CDFW decision to close the Dungeness fishing season early came on the heels of its “Whales in Crisis” public service announcement showing a humpback whale photographed in February of 2022, entangled in fishing net.

The whale swam over 1,000 miles dragging the gear for nearly a year before dying of its injuries.

The CDFW, under emergency regulations approved in early March, has also authorized commercial Dungeness crab vessels to retrieve an unlimited number of commercial Dungeness crab traps that were lost, damaged, abandoned or otherwise derelict in Fishing Zones 3 through 6, beginning April 15.

CDFW has requested that individuals operating under the emergency regulations regularly report retrieved gear to Any vessel operating or transiting in an open Fishing Zone may not possess more than six traps belonging to another vessel, pursuant to the California Code of Regulations.