The start of the commercial Dungeness crab fishing season in California is facing another delay, marking the second postponement this winter. The California Fish and Wildlife Department made this decision due to the ongoing high risk of whales becoming entangled in crab fishing gear along the coastal waters from Mendocino County to the Mexican border.
Charlton H. Bonham, the director of the department, emphasized the importance of prioritizing whale safety in these waters. The delay affects a significant portion of the coast, creating a cautious approach to the commencement of commercial crabbing activities.
In addition to the whale entanglement risk, there’s a separate issue affecting the far north where crabbing was scheduled to begin on December 1. Testing conducted in Mendocino, Humboldt, and Del Norte counties revealed poor quality of crab meat, adding another dimension to the challenges faced by the industry.
The California Fish and Wildlife Department plans to conduct the next assessment on or around December 7. If conditions allow, the earliest possible start for commercial crabbing in the far north would be December 16. These precautions and assessments aim to balance economic interests with the need to protect marine life.
Furthermore, the restrictions on recreational crabbers, who were initially permitted in many parts of the state with specific gear requirements, have now been extended to include the far north counties. This move underscores the commitment to maintaining a balance between economic activities and conservation efforts.
Geoff Shester, Oceana’s California campaign director and senior scientist, commended the department’s decision to prioritize whale protection. With the anticipation of strong El Niño conditions in the coming months, the likelihood of humpback whales approaching shallower waters is increased. By implementing these delays, officials aim to mitigate the risk of whales becoming entangled in fishing lines during their migration.
The ongoing delays in the commercial Dungeness crab fishing season have become a recurring strategy over the past five years. This measure is primarily taken to reduce the chances of migrating whales getting ensnared by crab-pot fishing lines. The delicate balance between sustaining the fishing industry and safeguarding marine life continues to be a priority for California fisheries.