Humpback whales have migrated out of Fishing Zones 1 and 2 and crabs there have passed quality testing (PDF), which means that the commercial fishery north of the Sonoma/Mendocino county line to the Oregon state line will open on Dec. 1, giving commercial crabbers the opportunity to get crab on tables and menus before the year is out. The commercial fishery is currently open in Fishing Zones 5 and 6, from Lopez Point in Monterey County to the Mexico border. The commercial fishery will continue to be delayed in Fishing Zones 3 and 4, from the Sonoma/Mendocino county line to Lopez Point, due to the presence of high numbers of humpback whales in the Gulf of the Farallones and Monterey Bay.
Early reports of successful crabbing are coming in from recreational crabbers in Fishing Zones 1 and 2 and those using hoop nets in Fishing Zones 3 and 4. The recreational fishery for Dungeness crab is open statewide (all Fishing Zones) with a temporary crab trap restriction for Fishing Zones 3 and 4. The temporary trap restriction in Fishing Zones 3 and 4 will continue due to the presence of humpback whales and the potential for entanglement in trap gear. Recreational take of Dungeness crab by other methods, including hoop nets and crab snares, is not affected by the temporary trap restriction.
“Based on aerial and vessel-based surveys, and after consulting with the Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) will continue to delay the commercial fishery and temporarily restrict recreational crab traps in Fishing Zones 3 and 4,” said CDFW Director Charlton H. Bonham. “Available data indicate high numbers of whales remain in the fishing grounds. When data indicate whales have migrated out of the fishing grounds, CDFW stands ready to open the commercial season and lift the temporary recreational trap restriction in Fishing Zones 3 and 4.”
In early December, the CDFW Director will reassess entanglement risk in Fishing Zones 3 and 4. CDFW staff, collaborators and partners have scheduled additional surveys in the next two weeks that, weather permitting, are anticipated to provide the data necessary to reassess whale presence. It is anticipated that the next risk assessment will occur on or before Dec. 15.
The CDFW Director is also continuing a Fleet Advisory for all Fishing Zones once they are open that reminds both the commercial and recreational fisheries to implement best practices, as described in the Best Practices Guide (PDF).
New this season is the addition of entanglement risk delays to the fair start provision described under Fish and Game Code section 8279.1. This provision prohibits a person from taking, possessing onboard or landing crab for commercial purposes from a vessel in an area previously delayed due to marine life entanglement risk, human health risk (e.g. domoic acid), or poor crab quality for a period of 30 days from the date of the opening if that vessel previously participated in other commercial Dungeness crab fishing areas (including those in Oregon and Washington) during the same season.
CDFW, partnering researchers and federal agencies have conducted numerous aerial and vessel-based surveys from the Oregon state line to the Channel Islands in Southern California to observe marine life concentrations. Those surveys, and other data inputs including important oceanographic data, inform the Risk Assessment Mitigation Program. This large collaborative effort works to use the best available science to manage an important California fishery. Its primary goal is to strike a balance between minimizing entanglement risk and providing fishing opportunity and ultimately fresh Dungeness crab for California residents. For more information related to the risk assessment process, please visit CDFW’s Whale Safe Fisheries page or more information on the Dungeness crab fishery, please visit wildlife.ca.gov/crab including FAQs for the new recreational crab trap regulations.