For Immediate Release, September 3, 2019
Catherine Kilduff, (202) 780-8862, CKilduff@biologicaldiversity.org
West Coast Whale Entanglements Drop After Legal Settlement with California, Crab Fishery
Working Group Meets This Week to Develop Long-term Solutions
SANTA ROSA, Calif.— The number of whales entangled in fishing gear along the West Coast dropped this year following a legal settlement that ended California’s commercial Dungeness crab season early.
The National Marine Fisheries Service reported 18 whale entanglements through August 23, 2019, compared to around 40 during that same period in 2018. As in 2018, West Coast whale entanglements in fishing gear this year predominantly involved commercial Dungeness crab gear.
A lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity prompted a settlement with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Association that ended crab season April 15 this year, instead of June 30 as scheduled. Still, two endangered humpback whales were found entangled in California commercial Dungeness crab gear in August, and one of those animals died.
“It’s great to see our settlement saving whales, but the discovery of two humpbacks entangled in California crab gear in a single month shows there’s still work to do,” said Catherine Kilduff, a Center attorney. “We don’t know if this was lost gear or if these poor whales had been entangled for months. State officials and crabbers must do more to reduce entanglement threats to endangered whales and sea turtles.”
California’s Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group is meeting this week in Santa Rosa to work on long-term entanglement solutions as part of the state’s application for a federal Endangered Species Act take permit. The main goal is to modify and implement the Risk Assessment and Mitigation Program (RAMP) before the next commercial crab season begins in November.
The Center sued the department in October 2017 after the number of whale entanglements off the California coast broke records for three straight years, peaking with 71 reported entanglements in 2016. The settlement reached in March ended crab season early, promoted the use of ropeless gear and created a system for assessing risks to whales and triggering area closures when necessary.
In November 2018, the department announced it would seek federal permits for allowing its crab fishery to harm whales and sea turtles protected by the Endangered Species Act. Developing a conservation plan as part of that process can take years, so the settlement spells out interim protections.
Entanglements in vertical ropes connected to heavy commercial Dungeness crab traps cause injuries and death. The ropes cut into the whales’ flesh, sap their strength and lead to drowning. Each entanglement in Dungeness crab gear of a humpback whale, blue whale or leatherback sea turtle violates the federal Endangered Species Act.
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.