The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has scheduled a virtual public meeting for Friday, Jan. 7 to hear testimony on its updated draft conservation plan regarding incidental take of endangered humpback whales, blue whales and leatherback sea turtles in the Dungeness crab fishery.
The fishery occurs almost exclusively north of Point Conception, but individual harvesters may decide to set gear in other areas and gear could be moved by ocean currents, other vessels or entangled marine life beyond the typical fishing grounds. CDFW therefore has defined its plan and permit area as encompassing the entirety of the exclusive economic zone south of the California/Oregon border.
California’s commercial Dungeness crab fishery, which dates to the mid-1880s, is one of California most valuable commercial fisheries, regularly exceeding $50 million in ex-vessel value – the price paid to harvesters.
The draft document notes that the increased number of entanglements is likely due to a combination of factors, including changes in the abundance and distribution of whales and forage, shifting patterns in human activities and increased public awareness and reporting. Reports of sea turtle interactions with fishing gear also increased.
The Marine Mammal Protection Act generally prohibits the “take” of marine mammals in U.S. waters, which is defined as activities which “harass, hunt, capture or kill or attempt to harass, hunt, capture or kill any marine mammal.”
There are limited exemptions authorizing several types of take permits. To issue an Incidental Take Permit, the Secretary of Commerce must find, among other things, that the incidental mortality and serious injury from the permitted commercial fishing activity will have a “negligible impact” on protected marine mammals.
CDFW, the California Ocean Protection Council and National Marine Fisheries Service convened the first Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group in 2015 to address marine life entanglements in the California Dungeness crab fishery. The group, which includes a broad cross-section of stakeholders, including fishermen and environmentalists, has been instrumental in making recommendations to the state management agency and the California Legislature regarding actions to reduce such entanglements.