Humpback Whale Sightings Delay Calif. Dungeness Crab Season

Photo via California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has announced that due to increased concentrations of blue and humpback whales in fishing areas, a delay in commercial fishing for Dungeness crab in Fishing Zones 1 and 2 has been instituted.

Also announced on Nov. 17 was that the season delay in Fishing Zones 3-6 remains in effect. Restrictions are also being continued for crab traps in the recreational crab fishery in several fishing zones.

CDFW officials said the next scheduled risk assessment is expected on or about Dec. 7 or 8.

In a separate statement also issued on Nov. 17, the international ocean conservation group Oceana said the delay in the Dungeness crab fishing season was aimed at protecting whales, but also due to poor crab meat quality in northern California’s Fishing Zones 1 and 2.

According to CDFW there have been 16 confirmed whale entanglements, including humpback whales and gray whales, reported off the coast of California this year, four of which were confirmed in the California commercial Dungeness crab gear.

This includes a recent sighting of another humpback whale reported entangled on Nov.11 in Monterey Bay and confirmed to be in California commercial Dungeness crab gear. To date, at least 24 whales have been confirmed entangled off the West Coast in 2023, Oceana said.

According to the National Marine Fisheries Service (MFS) roughly 75% of reported whale entanglements are fatal, as whales can drag the heavy fishing gear for months, hindering their ability to dive and feed. This can result in malnutrition, starvation infection to damaged flukes or tails and even severed appendages and drowning, Oceana’s California campaign director and senior scientist, Geoff Shester, said.

Shester said strong El Nino conditions are anticipated in the coming months, which are likely to drive humpback whales closer to shore as they follow available prey — like anchovy — into shallower waters

“If whales also have to contend with thousands of vertical fishing lines in these more nearshore areas from conventional crab traps it could create the perfect storm for increased entanglements, and we’ve already seen too many whales entangled in fishing gear this year,” he said.