Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, November 20, 2019


Kristen Monsell, (510) 844-7137,

California Crab Season Opening Delayed by Whale Entanglement Risk

Officials Cite Presence of Endangered Humpbacks, Crabbers Call for Delay

SACRAMENTO— The California Department of Fish and Wildlife today announced a preliminary decision to delay this week’s opening of commercial Dungeness crab season after aerial surveys showed the presence of humpback whales. Whale entanglements in crab lines have been a major problem in recent years, which the Department pledged to address in a legal agreement earlier this year with the Center for Biological Diversity.

The decision follows the Bodega Bay’s crabbing fleet vote earlier this week to voluntarily wait for the whale entanglement risk to lessen before dropping thousands of lines into the water. Other port associations also called for a delay today. The department’s aerial survey on Monday found up to 86 humpback whales gathered near Point Reyes, Half Moon Bay and the Gulf of Farallones. Monterey Bay Whale Watch has observed an average of 10 humpbacks each trip for the past week.

“California officials made the right call based on the presence of humpback whales and their promise to protect these whales from deadly entanglements,” said Kristen Monsell, legal director of the Center’s oceans program. “We commend the Bodega Bay fleet for setting a good example on preventing deadly whale entanglements. Simply put, it just didn’t make sense to allow thousands of crab lines to be dropped into the water where there are so many whales in the area. Thanksgiving crab feasts shouldn’t come with a side of dead whales.”

Commercial crab season was scheduled to officially open south of the Mendocino County line this Friday and the department was allowing crabbers to start setting their traps at 6 a.m. Thursday The department has proposed delaying the season opener to Dec. 15 but will be accepting comments until Friday at 4:45 p.m. before making a final decision.

The scheduled Dec. 1 crab season opening north of Mendocino County has been delayed by at least two weeks because of poor quality crabs, raising fear that the density of crab traps in the rest of the state could have been higher than usual.

Reported whale entanglements dropped this year, but at least three endangered humpback whales have been found entangled in commercial Dungeness crab gear since Aug. 1. One entangled whale died off Santa Cruz Island in August. Another humpback washed up on a beach in Humboldt County entangled, injured and alive, but was euthanized on Oct. 24.

The Center sued the state wildlife department in 2017 for failing to prevent the crab fishery from entangling and killing endangered whales and sea turtles. That lawsuit is on hold after the department agreed to end crab season three months early to protect the spring whale migration, among other provisions.

Under the agreement crab season will now end April 1 in districts 10, 17 and south, unless a risk assessment demonstrates no risk of entanglements. The season could be suspended even earlier if endangered whales are found entangled. Starting in 2021 the agreement will allow the use of ropeless gear in areas otherwise closed to crab fishing.

Entanglements in vertical ropes connected to heavy commercial crab traps cause injuries and death as the ropes cut into the whales’ flesh, sap their strength and lead to drowning.

Each entanglement of a humpback whale, blue whale or leatherback sea turtle violates the federal Endangered Species Act. The state is liable for causing these unlawful entanglements because it authorizes and manages the fishery’s operation.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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