Two entanglements of humpback whales in commercial Dungeness crab fishing gear have prompted the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) to close the fishery from Point Arena in Mendocino County south to the Mexican border April 8.
Citing enhanced risk of whale entanglement, the agency announced the closure on Friday, March 25, giving fishermen two weeks to remove their gear.
The Risk Assessment and Mitigation Program (RAMP) regulations, instituted in 2020, requires CDFW to restrict Dungeness crab fishing when whales are present and the risk of entanglement is high. This led to a delayed season opening each of the last three years to allow whale to migrate south.
The rules also stipulate that administrative action is required when there are two entanglements in a season, and a closure in the event of three entanglements.
“The past few seasons have been difficult for fishing families, communities and businesses, but it is imperative that we strike the right balance between protecting humpback whales and providing fishing opportunity,” CDFW Director Charlton Bonham said in a prepared statement. “The fleet has done an impressive job helping CDFW manage risk of entanglement in the commercial fishery, including starting to remove fishing gear when the entanglements were first reported. This partnership helps ensure we protect future opportunities to fish and the incredible biodiversity of our ocean.”
A climate change-attributed spike in whale entanglements from 2015 to 2017 put the fishery in the crosshairs of some environmental organizations, leading to regulatory changes, including the establishment of the RAMP rules.
Since then, entanglements have sharply fallen, with one confirmed entangled in California Dungeness crab fishing gear in both 2020 and 2021.
While it’s still early in the migration period, on March 11 an entangled humpback whale was spotted off the San Mateo County coast and another on Monterey Bay on March 19, said Ryan Bartling, a senior environmental scientist with CDFW. Response teams were unable to completely disentangle the whale in both cases.