The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is shutting down the commercial Dungeness crab fishing season early to reduce the chance of humpback whales getting tangled up in fishing gear, according to the department.
The move comes just weeks after the Pacific Fishery Management Council released a series of proposals to ban both commercial and recreational salmon fishing through April 2024. Recreational salmon fishing is already closed through mid-May of this year to protect Sacramento River fall Chinook and Klamath River fall Chinook. A final decision is expected in the coming weeks.
For a portion of the California coast that runs roughly between Sonoma and Mendocino counties to the U.S. and Mexico border, the halt on commercial crab fishing begins at noon on April 15. The season normally runs through June 30. It also began with commercial trapping restrictions in place for several weeks before fully opening to protect whales.
There were several cases of humpback whales becoming entangled in fishing gear March-April 2022, and in response, the department called off the season on April 8 last year.
This year, the department has decided to call off the remainder of the Dungeness crab fishing season along much of the California coast in order to prevent it from happening again this year, given that they expect the whales to return to the same foraging areas off the coast of California this year.
While some commercial fishing operations depend on late-season crab fishing, roughly 80% to 90% of the Dungeness crab each year is harvested within the first two months of the fishing season, according to department spokesperson Ryan Bartling.
"At the end of the day, we're charged with managing a state fishery," he says.
The department plans to begin removing fishing gear that has been left in the water as soon as 6 a.m. on April 21.