Proving that the Risk Assessment Mitigation Program is successfully striking a balance between the needs of the commercial Dungeness crab fleet and protection of marine life, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) will open the commercial season statewide on Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020, allowing the fleet a chance to get Dungeness crab on California tables before the holiday season ends.
This statewide opener ends delays in place due to meat quality in the northern management area (NMA) and the potential for whale entanglement in the central management area (CMA). It also gives the fleet ample time for planning and gear preparation and promotes an orderly start to the fishery. For the NMA Fishing Zones 1 and 2, the pre-soak period will begin Sunday, Dec. 20 at 8:01 a.m. and for the CMA, Fishing Zones 3, 4, 5 and 6, the pre-soak period will begin Tuesday, Dec. 22 at 6:01 a.m.
Available data indicates some whales remain in the fishing grounds but risk is declining and CDFW supports a balanced approach to managing risk and providing opportunity for the commercial fishery that is grounded in expert science.
Whale entanglement risk still exists, but it is low. Thus, the opening declaration is accompanied by an notice to the fleet to use best fishing practices and avoid areas where whales may be congregating including around the canyon edges of Monterey, and between the Farallon Islands and Point Reyes. Crabbers are encouraged to review the Best Practices Guide and remember to minimize knots and line scope when fishing.
Recent survey data indicate most whales have started their annual migration out of the fishing grounds. Based on these data, CDFW made a preliminary recommendation to open the fishery statewide on Wednesday, Dec. 16. The Whale Entanglement Working Group evaluated all available data and did not provide a consensus recommendation to open or delay. After the Working Group meeting, the majority of ports requested further delay of the opener.
“Our recommendation was to open this Wednesday,” said CDFW Director Charlton H. Bonham. “But after hearing from parts of the fleet expressing a variety of views, and review of additional scientific information provided by Working Group experts, we decided on an additional seven-day delay. This gives the fleet extra time to get ready and get their gear in the water, certainty in that we’re opening statewide, hopefully the chance to get part of the holiday market and an additional seven days for any remaining whales to migrate. We support any additional measures the fleet or specific ports wish to take to minimize entanglements and also understand the additional hardships resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. CDFW staff, collaborators and partners have worked hard to collect data to inform a unified statewide opener.”
Since late October, CDFW in partnership with researchers, federal agencies and the fishing industry has conducted surveys from the Oregon state line to the Channel Islands to observe marine life concentrations. Based on recent aerial surveys and observation data, whales have begun to migrate out of California waters to their winter breeding grounds, which in turn reduces the risk of entanglement when the commercial fishery opens.
Through the course of the crab season, CDFW will engage regularly with the Working Group to review scientific information and advice efforts to minimize the risk of whale and sea turtle entanglements while maximizing fishing opportunity. Based on that process, CDFW may take additional management actions in response to future risk assessments. For more information related to the risk assessment process or this delay, please visit CDFW’s Whale Safe Fisheries page. For more information related to the risk assessment process or this delay, please visit CDFW’s Whale Safe Fisheries page or for more information on Dungeness crab, please visit wildlife.ca.gov/crab.