Bay Area/ North SF Bay Area/ Parks & Nature
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Published on March 29, 2024
California Shuts Down Key Crabbing Areas to Protect Migrating Humpback WhalesSource: California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW)

In an effort to untangle the issues between wildlife conservation and commercial interests, California's crabbing rules have gotten a serious overhaul. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has announced the closure of the commercial Dungeness crab fishery in several zones along the California coast in a move primarily aimed at protecting migrating humpback whales from entanglement in fishing gear. Following risk assessments under the Risk Assessment Mitigation Program (RAMP), commercial crabbing will be halted in areas seeing increased whale activity, as documented by recent surveys.

The shutdown is set to kick in at 6:00 p.m. on April 8 for the commercial sectors in Fishing Zones 3 to 6, which include the waters from the Sonoma/Mendocino county line down to the U.S./Mexico border. This is necessary to quickly reduce the risk of whales getting caught up in trap lines. To further protect the marine mammals, commercial fishing will also be limited to inside a 30-fathom depth contour in the northern Fishing Zones 1 and 2, as reported by the CDFW.

Adding an extra layer of precaution, recreational crab traps will no longer be allowed in zones 3 through 5. This isn't a complete shutdown, though—recreational fishers can still use hoop nets and crab snares until the season closes. 

And let's not forget the fishermen who might've lost their gear amidst the tides and chaos of the ocean. The CDFW's got their backs too—come April 15, there's going to be a green light for retrieving lost, damaged, or abandoned commercial Dungeness crab traps in those recently closed zones, as long as it's reported to [email protected]. "All vessels must also carry onboard an electronic monitoring system capable of recording the vessel’s location while engaged in fishing activity," as reminded by the CDFW announcement.

The CDFW has put out a Fleet Advisory for commercial and recreational crab fisheries, urging them to use best practices and keep an eye out for more expected management measures in the coming weeks. With the next risk assessment scheduled for mid-April, crabbers and conservationists are bracing for what's to come in these sustainably-troubled waters.