As humpback whales moved on and away from fishing grounds, California state officials said they will lift the precautionary 50 percent reduction on commercial Dungeness trap gear Sunday.

“Based on available data and as indicated by historical migration patterns, humpback whale abundance is at or near a seasonal low within the Dungeness crab fishing grounds,” according to a statement Wednesday from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

With less risk of whales getting entangled in crab gear, CDFW Director Charlton Bonham said he would lift trap restrictions in the state’s fishing zone 3 through 6 south of the Sonoma/Mendocino county line.

The California Dungeness season opener was delayed three times in fall 2022 as the Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group and agencies assessed the risk of gear entanglement, using criteria set out in the state’s Risk Assessment Mitigation Program.

An opening to set gear Dec. 28 for a Dec. 31 fishing start was tempered with a 50 percent gear reduction, as an additional precaution.

“The restrictions put on the fleet this season have served their purpose, as no whales were observed entangled, and now most humpbacks have left for the winter,” said Geoff Shester, California campaign director and senior scientist with the environmental group Oceana. 

The state maintains a “fleet advisory” urging fishermen to keep an eye out for whales and avoid setting gear in areas where they are seen. State officials say they anticipate making next risk assessment in mid-February 2023.

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