For Immediate Release, June 29, 2020

Contact:

Kristen Monsell, (510) 844-7137, KMonsell@biologicaldiversity.org

California Holds Hearing on Rule to Prevent Whale Entanglements in Crab Gear

Groups Criticize Measure, Urge New Regulations to Promote Ropeless Traps

SACRAMENTO, Calif.— California wildlife officials are accepting public comments and holding an online hearing today on a proposed rule to reduce the number of endangered whales and sea turtles that get entangled in commercial Dungeness crab gear.

A group comment letter organized by the Center for Biological Diversity, whose 2017 lawsuit over steep annual increases in reported whale entanglements helped prompt the new regulations, says the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s rule doesn’t do enough to promote the use of ropeless crab traps.

“Converting to ropeless gear is the only way to truly eliminate the entanglement threat to endangered whales and sea turtles,” said Kristen Monsell, the Center’s oceans legal director. “It’s good to see California officials finally getting serious about preventing these whale entanglements. But this rule fails to end the threat to endangered marine life.”

The new rule implements the Risk Assessment and Mitigation Program developed by the department and its California Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group. The state formed that stakeholder group in 2015 to address entanglements that were increasingly killing and injuring endangered whales.

The public hearing is today from 10 a.m. to noon; click this link to participate.

The program assesses the likely presence of whales and sea turtles to determine if entanglement prevention measures, such as shortening the season or closing an area to crab gear, are needed. Entanglements in thick ropes connected to heavy commercial Dungeness crab traps injure and kill whales and sea turtles. The ropes cut into the animals’ flesh, sap their strength and lead to drowning.

Ropeless gear, also known as pop-up buoy gear, eliminates static vertical ropes in the water. This gear uses remote-controlled buoys that release to the surface when fishermen are ready to retrieve the trap. The new rule includes testing for ropeless traps and allows them to be used after April 1 as the traditional season ends, but not before.

“Crabbers need better incentives to convert to ropeless traps, including the right to use them all season,” Monsell said. “The crabbing industry lost thousands of traps in the recent fire at Pier 45 in San Francisco. California should help replace them with new traps that don’t endanger whales.”

The Center filed its lawsuit after whale entanglements off California’s coast broke records for three straight years, peaking with 71 reported entanglements in 2016. Of the 29 cases were the gear could be identified, 22 were commercial Dungeness crab gear.

Each entanglement of a humpback whale, blue whale or leatherback sea turtle violates the federal Endangered Species Act. In November 2018 the department announced it would seek a federal permit to allow the entanglement of whales and sea turtles incidental to operation of its crab fishery. The proposed rule is part of the process for obtaining that federal authorization.

Comments on the proposed rules are due by midnight and can be sent to WhaleSafeFisheries@wildlife.ca.gov.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

 

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