On Friday, the California Fish and Wildlife Department ordered another delay in the commercial Dungeness crab fishing season — the second so far this winter.
The risk of whales becoming tangled in crab fishing gear remains high for most of the coastal waters from the Mendocino County line south to the Mexican border, director Charlton H. Bonham announced. In the far north, where crabbing was supposed to be allowed starting Dec. 1, there’s a second issue: Testing in Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte counties revealed poor crab meat quality.
The next assessment will take place on or around Dec. 7. The earliest that commercial crabbing could begin in the far north would be Dec. 16, state officials said.
Also Friday, the restrictions on recreational crabbers, who had been given the go-ahead in many parts of the state so long as they used hoop nets and crab snares and not traps, were extended to include those far north counties. That new restriction goes into effect Nov. 26.
Geoff Shester, Oceana’s California campaign director and senior scientist, said Fish & Wildlife officials are “doing the right thing to protect whales” as the mammals swim and feed off the coast. “We are anticipating strong El Niño conditions in the coming months, which are likely to drive humpback whales closer to shore as they follow available prey — like anchovy — into shallower waters.”
This is the fifth consecutive year of commercial crabbing delays instituted to decrease the chances of migrating whales currently off the coast getting ensnared by the crab-pot fishing lines.
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.
With delays to protect whales, the truncated 2022-23 season ran from Dec. 31 to this past April 15.
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