For the second consecutive year, California officials are delaying the commercial Dungeness crab season to decrease the chances of whales currently off the coast getting ensnarled by fishing lines.

The season, scheduled to start Nov. 15, will be postponed until at least Dec. 1, when the next assessment will take place.

The order came down Wednesday evening from Charlton H. Bonham, director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“While no one wants to delay the season, CDFW and the Working Group feel a delay is necessary to reduce the risk of entanglement,” Bonham said in a statement. “The fleet has gone to great lengths to be more nimble in order to protect whales and turtles, and the results are promising.”

The Working Group is made up of members of the commercial crab fleet, state officials and other agencies.

Representatives for fishing crews applauded the declaration.

“We support any decision that will allow for the best commercial crab fishing season opportunities for our fishermen,” said Ben Platt, president of the California Coast Crab Association, noting that new regulations could “shut crab fishing down for even one whale interaction with our gear.”

“It’s a prudent decision to wait two weeks to prevent that possibility from happening.”

During aerial surveys Oct. 28-29 off the California coast, CDFW staff observed 48 humpback whales and another vessel survey approved by the agency “made 118 sightings of an estimated 345 humpback whales,” the state declaration said.

“When the whales migrate out of the fishing grounds in coming weeks, CDFW stands ready to open the commercial season,” Bonham said.

Since 2015, there have been delays in all but one commercial Dungeness season. A toxin, domoic acid, destroyed Northern California’s 2015-2016 commercial season and created delays in other years. In 2018, recreational crabbers had to postpone their fishing, but the commercial season began without a hitch. In 2019, the fishing line danger to whales resulted in a crabbing delay of several weeks.

The toxin isn’t likely to create a problem during the 2020-21 season, Bonham said. “This year, for the first time in a long time, it looks like we don’t have to worry about domoic acid, which is good news.”

That means the recreational crab season may begin as scheduled this Saturday, Nov. 7.

“Unlike previous years, domoic acid will not delay a season opener in the central or northern management areas. All sampling locations tested below allowable federal levels for domoic acid,” so no health advisories have been issued, officials said.


By Arlene Huff

Arlene Huff is the founding member of Golden State Online. Before that She was a general assignment reporter. A native Californian, she graduated from the University of California with a degree in medical anthropology and global health. She currently lives in Los Angeles.

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