California Closes Commercial Dungeness Crab Fishery to Protect Humpback Whales

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

Because of two recent humpback whale entanglements that occurred off San Mateo County and in Monterey Bay involving California commercial Dungeness crab fishing gear, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife in early April closed the commercial Dungeness crab fishery.

The closure, which affects Fishing Zones 3, 4, 5 and 6 (Sonoma/Mendocino county line to the U.S./Mexico border) was effective at noon on April 8, nearly two months earlier than originally planned. All Dungeness crab traps were ordered to be removed from the fishing grounds by the closure date.

“While this closure shortens the season for many fishermen, the RAMP (Risk Assessment Mitigation Program) regulations are designed to minimize risk and provide for a long-term viable fishery for all Californians,” the CDFW explained in a statement.

In addition to the closure, the Fish & Wildlife Director Charlton H. Bonham authorized the Lost and Abandoned Gear Retrieval Program to begin removing commercial Dungeness crab traps left in the water in Zones 3, 4, 5 and 6 beginning April 15.

CDFW is asking fishermen and mariners to be on the lookout for entangled whales and report them so that a disentanglement response team can be mobilized to remove the gear. Reports can be made to 1-877-SOS-WHALE or contact the U.S. Coast Guard on VHF Channel 16.

Dungeness crab
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has closed its commercial Dungeness crab fishery due to a recent humpback whale entanglement. Photo: CDFW.

“The past few seasons have been difficult for fishing families, communities and businesses, but it is imperative that we strike the right balance between protecting humpback whales and providing fishing opportunity,” Bonham said. “The fleet has done an impressive job helping CDFW manage risk of entanglement in the commercial fishery, including starting to remove fishing gear when the entanglements were first reported. This partnership helps ensure we protect future opportunities to fish.”

As of now, recreational fishery in the zones remains open but may be subject to a future trap restriction when humpbacks return to forage during the spring and summer, according to the CDFW.