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California’s commercial Dungeness crab fishery will open Jan. 18 in from the Sonoma/Mendocino county line to the U.S./Mexico border (Fishing Zones 3-6) under a 50 percent trap reduction beginning Jan. 18.

The season opens with a 64-hour pre-soak to begin Jan. 15 at 8 a.m. California Department of Fish and Wildlife officials say the plan is for “a balanced approach that achieves two outcomes.”

The trap reduction will help reduce entanglement risk for humpback whales by cutting down on gear and vertical lines deployed offshore, and will help fishermen by getting the commercial fishery open statewide.

The latest management decision came after the state’s Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group meeting Jan. 10. The 2023-2024 Dungeness season continued the recent years marked by staggered openings, as state fisheries managers, industry advisors and environmental advocates monitor whale activity and work to minimize conflicts.

The California fishery’s long-prized holiday sales season from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day has been a repeat casualty of delayed openings in recent years. The commercial fishery north of the Sonoma/Mendocino county line (Fishing Zones 1 and 2) opened on Jan. 5, under a fleet advisory and was not subject to any trap reductions.

In Fishing Zones 3-6, any commercial Dungeness crab vessel fishing in or transiting regardless of fishing location is subject to the 50 percent reduction, the Department of Fish and Wildlife says.

“Additionally, they must have at least 50 percent of their valid buoy tags for the current fishing season onboard and available for inspection by CDFW at all times.”

“This has been an extremely challenging year for California’s commercial fishing industry,” said the agency director Charlton Bonham. “Today’s action in the Central Management Area strikes a balance. It protects whales and turtles, and it gets people on the water allowing our hardworking commercial fishing fleet to provide fresh sustainable crab to California residents.”

State officials say they anticipate their next risk assessment will take place in mid-February. 

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