By Linda Zavoral
California Fish and Wildlife officials on Monday announced another delay in the commercial Dungeness crab season for the entire state coast.
A risk assessment for the region from the Sonoma/Mendocino County line south to the Mexican border determined there is still a high concentration of migrating whales that could get tangled in fishing gear. It’s the fourth consecutive year of delays to protect the humpbacks, and the second delay this season.
There’s a different reason for the delay in the far north. Whales have moved south from Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte counties, but state officials said testing of crabs caught in these waters showed low meat quality, hence the ban there.
Commercial crabbing will be delayed until Dec. 16, and possibly later. The next risk assessment is scheduled for Dec. 7.
Throughout the state, recreational crabbing has been allowed since Nov. 5, so long as crabbers use only hoop nets and crab snares. Starting Nov. 28, recreational fishing with crab traps will be allowed off the far north coast but not elsewhere.
Geoff Shester of the Oceana conservation organization hailed the decision to provide the whales with safe feeding grounds as they finish their annual migration. “We commend the ongoing efforts to find ways to catch Dungeness crab while minimizing the risk to whales and sea turtles,” he said in a statement, “and we remain committed to working with all stakeholders to continue to find the best solutions to ensure a healthy crab fishery and safer passage for wildlife off our shores.”
The group cited figures from the NOAA Fisheries that estimate that roughly 75 percent of reported whale entanglements prove fatal because the heavy fishing gear can prevent the mammals from diving for food.
Since 2015, there have been delays in all but one commercial Dungeness season in the Bay Area. A toxin, domoic acid, that could sicken anyone who eats the tainted crab destroyed Northern California’s 2015-2016 commercial season and created delays in other years.
In 2018, the commercial season began without a hitch although recreational crabbers had to postpone their fishing.
In 2019 and 2020, the fishing line danger to whales resulted in a crabbing delay of several weeks. The 2020 crabbing season was officially set to begin Dec. 23, but price negotiations between crab fleets and seafood processors delayed the start until early January 2021.
The 2021 season was delayed two weeks for far Northern California, and got underway Dec. 1. In the Bay Area, the commercial crabbing season wasn’t allowed to start until Dec. 29. The end came earlier than usual – April 8 of this year – after two whales became entangled in crab-fishing gear, one off the San Mateo County coast and one in Monterey Bay.
According to the Oceana organization, the state has recorded a third whale caught in crabbing lines this calendar year.
Source: Paradise Post