The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFWD) announced that the Dungeness crab season will open on Jan. 5 in zones 1 and 2, the Sonoma County line to the Oregon border. A 64-hour pre-soak period began on January 2 at 8:01 a.m. The delay south of Sonoma and Mendocino, zones 3-6, will continue to be restricted.

The commercial fishing season further south will remain delayed due to the concentration of whales observed along the coast, including a group of 58 whales feeding near the surface in fishing zones around San Francisco Bay.

Calif. crab fishing zones. Courtesy of CDFW

According to the Risk Assessment and Mitigation Program (RAMP), the multiple delays in the Dungeness season opening were attributed to humpback whale entanglements and the high number of whale sightings. 16 separate humpback and gray whale entanglements have been reported in California, with four entanglements associated with commercial crabbing nets.

The California Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group developed RAMP in 2020, which included commercial and recreational fishermen, environment organization representatives, whale entanglement response network members, and state and federal agencies. They are committed to developing solutions that support thriving whale populations along the West Coast and promote a thriving, profitable Dungeness crab fishery.

RAMP monthly assesses marine life entanglement risk for humpbacks, blue whales, and leatherback sea turtles. When entanglement risk is heightened, the department includes a working group and thoroughly reviews information before taking further action. The actions can include fleet advisories, fishing depth restrictions, and fishery closures.

NMFS has also proposed upgrading California commercial Dungeness crab fishery from a Category 2 to a Category 1, a designation reserved for fisheries that have had frequent likelihood of seriously injuring or killing marine mammals. NMFS must classify each commercial fishery on the List of Fisheries into one of the three categories under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

The next DFWD Assessment is scheduled for Jan. 11.

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Carli is a Content Specialist for National Fisherman. She comes from a fourth-generation fishing family off the coast of Maine. Her background consists of growing her own business within the marine community. She resides on one of the islands off the coast of Maine while also supporting the lobster community she grew up in.

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