Northern California Recreational Crab Fishing in Flux to Protect Whales and Sea Turtles

The recreational take of Dungeness crab using crab traps in Fishing Zones 3 and 4, (from the Sonoma/Mendocino county line to Lopez Point) will be temporarily restricted when the season opens on November 6 due to presence of humpback whales and leatherback sea turtles and the potential for entanglement from trap gear. The season had been scheduled to open statewide on November 6, 2021. However, the deployment and use of crab traps in any recreational crab fishery (including rock crab) is temporarily restricted in those zones until lifted by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Director.

The recreational take of Dungeness crab using crab traps is allowed starting November 6, 2021 in Fishing Zones 1 and 2 (from the Oregon state line to the Sonoma/Mendocino county line) and in Fishing Zones 5 and 6 (the area south of Lopez Point). The CDFW Director is opening the fishery in these zones under a Fleet Advisory and reminds recreational crabbers to implement best practices, as described in the Best Practices GuideRecreational take of Dungeness crab by other methods, including hoop nets and crab snares, is not affected by the temporary trap restriction and is allowed statewide beginning November 6, 2021. For more information, please see the FAQs for the new recreational crab trap regulations or CDFW’s Whale Safe Fisheries Webpage.

The commercial Dungeness crab fishery south of the Sonoma/Mendocino county line was scheduled to open on November 15, 2021 in Fishing Zones 3, 4, 5 and 6. However, the season opener has been delayed in Fishing Zones 3 and 4 (Sonoma/Mendocino county line to Lopez Point) due to presence of humpback whales and leatherback sea turtles and the potential for entanglement. Fishing Zones 5 and 6 are scheduled to open November 15 under a Fleet Advisory, pending Domoic Acid testing results. CDFW reminds the commercial fleet in these fishing zones to implement best practices, as described in the Best Practices Guide. CDFW also reminds all commercial fishery participants that, pursuant to Senate Bill 80 (McGuire, 2021), “fair start” now applies to delays implemented to reduce the risk of marine life entanglement and commercial traps may be baited 64 hours before the opening of the season statewide.

“This is the first time the recreational Dungeness crab fishery is subject to similar measures as commercial crabbers to help protect whales and sea turtles,” said CDFW Director Charlton H. Bonham. “We recognize that change takes time but thank all Californians who treasure these recreational fishing opportunities. We continue to value and appreciate the work put in by the fleet and the California Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group. This year, while the start of the recreational season may look different, the process allowed us to open some parts of the coast to recreational crab traps and all the coast to recreational crabbing with other fishing methods. This shows there is a way to partner more closely with the recreational fishery to protect California’s whales and sea turtles while still providing meaningful recreational and commercial fishing opportunities.”

Prior to this determination, CDFW worked with a broad range of scientific partners, researchers, agencies and the California Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group to collect and synthesize information regarding presence of humpback whales, blue whales and leatherback sea turtles across each fishing zone. Aerial surveys, vessel-based surveys, and satellite telemetry data indicate aggregations of humpback whales and several leatherback sea turtles still present within Fishing Zones 3 and 4. Under triggers established as part of the Risk Assessment and Mitigation Program (RAMP) regulations for the commercial fishery, as well as new regulations adopted by the Fish and Game Commission for the recreational Dungeness crab fishery, the CDFW Director is required to implement a management action for these fishing zones to reduce marine life entanglement risk.

For the commercial fishery, Fishing Zones 1 and 2 are not scheduled to open until December 1, 2021 and crab meat quality test results are not yet available. CDFW has not yet evaluated the need for any actions to reduce marine life entanglement risk in these zones.

CDFW anticipates the next risk assessment will take place on or before November 22, 2021, at which time the Director will re-evaluate the temporary recreational crab trap restriction and commercial fishery delay in Fishing Zones 3 and 4, as well as the need for any management actions for the commercial fishery in Fishing Zones 1 and 2.

Active NorCal

Northern California's Outdoor Digital Newsmagazine

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