CDFW Works With Diverse Stakeholder Group to Manage Entanglement Risk in the Commercial Dungeness Crab Fishery

Beginning in 2015, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has been working with a diverse coalition of commercial fishing representatives, environmental organizations, scientists and agency partners to reduce the risk of whale and sea turtle entanglements in commercial fishing gear used by the Dungeness crab fleet. CDFW’s recent management efforts under the Risk Assessment and Mitigation Program (RAMP), supported by the work of the Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group, correlates with a drop in marine life entanglements from a high of 22 confirmed entanglements involving Humpback whales, Blue whales or Leatherback sea turtles in 2016 to zero confirmed entanglements this season.

Recent survey data indicate an increase in Humpback whales returning from their winter breeding grounds to California fishing grounds. In consideration of this and all available data and recommendations from staff, the Working Group and other stakeholders, CDFW Director Charlton H. Bonham has assessed entanglement risk under the RAMP and announced the closure of the commercial Dungeness crab fishery statewide beginning at noon on June 1, 2021.

“It has been a very difficult year for many in our fishing communities and I recognize that every day of lost fishing further impacts families and small businesses,” said Director Bonham. “I acknowledge the sacrifices and resilience of California’s fishermen and women and look forward to continuing to work with the fleet and the Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group to minimize entanglement risk while maximizing opportunities.”

All commercial crab traps must be removed from the fishing grounds by the June 1 closure date. While this closure shortens the season by four weeks in the central management zone and six weeks in the northern management zone, the RAMP regulations are designed to minimize risk and provide for a long-term viable commercial fishery. In addition, Director Bonham has authorized the Lost and Abandoned Gear Program to begin removing commercial Dungeness crab traps left in the water after the close of the season on June 7, 2021 at 6 a.m.

The RAMP regulations anticipate continued fishing during any closure after April 1 with the use of authorized Alternative Gear types (for example, pop-up gear), which are approved based on criteria outlined in the RAMP regulation. At this time, there are no authorized Alternative Gears, but CDFW looks forward to working with gear developers and authorizing gear for use in future situations where risk is elevated.

Since late October 2020, CDFW has conducted 10 risk assessments to evaluate entanglement risk during the 2020-21 fishing season. While entanglements in any given year are likely due to a combination of human and environmental factors, CDFW is confident the programs it has developed with its partners will help continue the trend of decreasing entanglements. Improved ocean conditions, a high level of engagement by the commercial fishing fleet and regulatory changes have likely attributed to the reduction in entanglements. CDFW, the commercial Dungeness crab fleet and partners have been working through the California Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group to develop and implement measures to assess, manage and reduce risk of entanglement of whales and sea turtles protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. In addition to a draft Conservation Plan (currently in development) and RAMP regulations, these measures include development of a Best Practices Guide, implementation of a Standardized Gear Marking Program for trap gear fisheries, supporting alternative gear testing, implementation of a regulation limiting surface gear and a Lost or Abandoned Commercial Dungeness Crab Trap Retrieval Program.

For more information related to the risk assessment process, please visit CDFW’s Whale Safe Fisheries page or for more information on the Dungeness crab fishery, please visit wildlife.ca.gov/crab.

###

Media Contacts:
Ryan Bartling, CDFW Marine Region, (415) 761-1843
Jordan Traverso, CDFW Communications, (916) 654-9937

New Rockfish Conservation Area and Waypoint Maps Coming Soon for Upcoming Recreational Groundfish Openers

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is pleased to announce new map-based flyers and an updated online web map will soon be available to assist recreational anglers with Rockfish Conservation Area (RCA) waypoints and boundaries on the CDFW website.

These new flyers will be available in anticipation of the upcoming recreational boat-based groundfish fishery openers that will occur as follows:

  • March 1 in the Southern Management Area (Point Conception to U.S./Mexico border)
  • April 1 in the Central Management Area (Pigeon Point to Point Conception)
  • April 1 in the San Francisco Management Area (Pigeon Point to Point Arena)
  • May 1 in the Mendocino Area (Point Arena to near Cape Mendocino)
  • May 1 in the Northern Management Area (Near Cape Mendocino to California/Oregon state line)

RCAs are used in each of the state’s five Groundfish Management Areas (and the Cowcod Conservation Areas) to minimize contact with deeper-dwelling species of rockfish needing protection from fishing. RCAs are defined by straight lines connecting the waypoints in the order listed in the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 50, Part 660, Subpart C. Recreational take of those groundfish species subject to RCA restrictions is prohibited seaward of these lines regardless of depth. However, they may be possessed aboard a vessel in transit through these closed areas with no fishing gear deployed in the water. Anglers fishing for groundfish and non-groundfish species on the same trip are encouraged to review rules on take and possession inside and outside of RCAs.

The new flyers will include an overview cover map, and a series of 38 regional maps detailing the entire California coastline, including offshore islands and banks. The maps feature the RCA waypoint coordinates and boundary lines as well as the Groundfish Management Area lines. Also included are California’s network of Marine Protected Areas, which may be closed to some or all recreational fishing. The RCA maps are overlaid on National Ocean Service nautical charts to help anglers compare them to their desired fishing location; however, they should not be used for navigation.

CDFW will also update the online Ocean Sport Fishing Interactive Web Map with the new RCA lines. The web map, when used with a smart phone, will show your current position in relation to the RCA lines and marine protected area boundaries. Locations can be clicked or tapped to show the current fishing regulations. New features will also include the ability to live-track your position and different selections for the background to better understand the boundaries.

For 2021, the new map products are especially important as changes have been made to waypoints and RCA lines in three of the Groundfish Management Areas – Southern, San Francisco and Mendocino. The changes in each area offer anglers access to deeper depths, meaning more open fishing area when the groundfish season is open. In the Southern Management Area, the RCA for 2021 increases to 100 fathoms, allowing access to reefs and areas that have not been open to fishing in two decades. Subsequent openers for the San Francisco Management Area at 50 fathoms and the Mendocino Management Area at 30 fathoms are also new opportunities for anglers to venture into deeper depths to access shelf rockfish and deeper nearshore rockfish species. In the Northern Management Area the RCA depth remains at 30 fathoms, and in the Central Management Area at 50 fathoms.

In addition to the RCA changes and the new map products, anglers should also take note of the sub-daily bag limit of five vermilion rockfish, which is also new in 2021. For more information on this change, please see our FAQ.

Take and possession of bronzespotted rockfish, cowcod and yelloweye rockfish remain prohibited statewide.

Anglers should check CDFW’s website for the current regulations before fishing for groundfish. For more detailed information on the new 2021 recreational groundfish regulations and to stay informed of in-season changes, please call the Recreational Groundfish Hotline at (831) 649-2801 or visit CDFW’s summary of recreational groundfish fishing regulations for 2021. For background information on groundfish science and management, please visit CDFW’s Marine Region Groundfish web page.

###

Media Contacts:
Caroline McKnight, CDFW Marine Region, (831) 277-7683
Jordan Traverso, CDFW Communications, (916) 654-9937

March 2021 California Department of Fish and Wildlife Calendar

All calendar items are subject to change as we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. Please continue to adhere to all safety protocols including physical distancing, wearing masks and frequent hand washing.

Wildlife areas, ecological reserves and other properties may be closed due to wildfire damage. Hunters and outdoor enthusiasts are strongly encouraged to check for closures before leaving on any recreational trip.

1 — California Invasive Species Action Week Youth Art Contest Opens. Students in grades 2-12 are invited to submit artwork on the theme, “Be an Invasive Species Detective!” All types of media are encouraged! Submit entries electronically by May 5, 2021. Find complete information at wildlife.ca.gov/conservation/invasives/action-week/poster-contest. Winners will be announced during California Invasive Species Action Week in June. Please send any questions to invasives@wildlife.ca.gov.

1 Rockfish Fishery Opens for Boat-based Anglers in the Southern Management Area, Point Conception to the Mexico border. For more information, please visit wildlife.ca.gov/fishing/ocean/regulations/groundfish-summary#south.  

2 — Cutting Green Tape Restoration Permitting Workshop, 1 to 4 p.m. CDFW will host an online permitting workshop providing an overview of restoration permitting solutions, including new coordinated Cutting Green Tape permitting strategies. The workshop will cover the Habitat Restoration and Enhancement Act, the new Restoration Management Permit and other restoration permitting options, as well as an overview of options for complying with the California Environmental Quality Act when developing restoration projects. The workshop will also present case studies to explore restoration permitting pathways for different project types. Following the restoration permitting workshop, CDFW’s Landscape Conservation Planning Program will provide an overview of how CDFW’s landscape conservation tools to preserve larger areas of higher habitat quality and to enhance habitat connectivity can be used to further restoration. No registration is required. For more information on accessing the workshop, please visit wildlife.ca.gov/grants.

4 — Free Online Cannabis Permitting Workshop, 9 to 11 a.m. CDFW and state partners are hosting a free online commercial cannabis cultivation permitting workshop for new and existing commercial cannabis cultivators, consultants and other interested parties. The California Department of Food and Agriculture’s CalCannabis will provide an overview of the state’s cannabis cultivation licensing program. CDFW will cover permitting, use of the online notification system (epims.wildlife.ca.gov/index.do) and how to reduce environmental impacts. The State Water Board will review the cannabis policy, permitting process and other important information. Other state agencies will also be present. To attend, please visit wildlife.ca.gov/conservation/cannabis/permitting and click on the workshop link. No registration is required.

6 — Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) Environmental Science Virtual Workshop, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., Elkhorn Slough Reserve, 1700 Elkhorn Road, Watsonville (95076). The reserve presents a hands-on environmental science workshop for elementary school teachers through a combination of virtual lessons and field work. Teachers will learn about the GLOBE monitoring program, engage in inquiry-based lessons and take home new hands-on activities. For the full workshop schedule and to register, please visit www.elkhornslough.org/education-program/teacher-development.

16 California Fish and Game Commission Marine Resources Committee Meeting, time to be determined. The meeting is to be held via webinar/teleconference due to health and safety concerns related to COVID-19. For more information, please visit fgc.ca.gov/meetings/2021.

17 — Last Day of California Spiny Lobster Recreational and Commercial Fishing Season Statewide. Recreational lobster report card data can be reported at www.ca.wildlifelicense.com/internetsales/customersearch/begin. For more information, please visit wildlife.ca.gov/conservation/marine/invertebrates/lobster.  

17 — Last Day of Kellet’s Whelk Recreational and Commercial Fishing Season Statewide. For more information on Kellet’s whelk, please visit marinespecies.wildlife.ca.gov/kellet%E2%80%99s-whelk.

17 Public Workshop for the Lower American River Conservancy Program’s 2021 Proposal Solicitation Notice. This will be a virtual workshop using Microsoft Teams. For more information, please visit wcb.ca.gov.

20 — Additional Spring Wild Turkey Season Opens for Hunters with Junior Hunting Licenses (extending through March 21). For more information on upland game bird seasons and limits, please visit wildlife.ca.gov/hunting/upland-game-birds.

24 — Teachers on the Reserve Virtual Workshop, 3:30 to 5 p.m. A virtual introduction for K-12 teachers to the habitats and wildlife at the Elkhorn Slough Reserve. This presentation will deepen participants’ knowledge of the Slough’s ecological and cultural history and introduce virtual ways to explore the reserve. To register for this free event, please visit www.elkhornslough.org/education-program/teacher-development.  

27 — General Spring Wild Turkey Season Opens (extending through May 5). For more information on upland game bird seasons and limits, please visit wildlife.ca.gov/hunting/upland-game-birds.

31 Pre-applications Due for WCB’s California Riparian Habitat Conservation Program 2021 Call for Concepts. For more information, please visit wcb.ca.gov/programs/riparian.

###

Media Contact:
Amanda McDermott, CDFW Communications, (916)
322-8907

CDFW Seeks Input on 2021 Recreational Pacific Halibut Season Dates

California anglers who are interested in the recreational Pacific halibut fishery are invited to participate in an online survey to help inform the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) about angler preferences for open fishing dates during the upcoming 2021 season. Results of the survey, which is open until Feb. 17, will be used to develop recommended season dates that will be provided to the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The Pacific halibut fishery takes place off northern California. The 2021 quota will be 39,000 net pounds, the same quota as in 2019 and 2020.

For more information on the Pacific halibut fishery in California, please visit CDFW’s Pacific Halibut web page.

###

Media Contacts:
Melanie Parker, CDFW Marine Region, (831) 649-2814
Jordan Traverso, CDFW Communications, (916) 654-9937

Commercial Dungeness Crab Update

The commercial Dungeness crab season in the central management area, Point Arena to the Mexico border, will continue to be delayed due to the presence of whales within fishing grounds and the potential for entanglement. The commercial Dungeness crab season in the northern management area was scheduled to open Sunday, Dec. 1, but was delayed until at least Wednesday, Dec. 16 due to low meat quality. Meat quality testing and delays are a long-standing tri-state industry supported component of the season opener to ensure high quality crab at the start of the fisheries in northern California, Oregon and Washington. In early December, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Director will re-assess entanglement risk in the central management area and evaluate risk in the northern management area to inform the season opener for both areas.

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. CDFW has conducted five aerial surveys since late October and more than 10 vessel-based surveys have been conducted by researchers and the fishing industry. Additional sources of data include observations from a network of observers spread across three national marine sanctuaries.

Based on those data sources, “CDFW, after consulting with the Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group, is enacting a delay in the central management area,” said CDFW Director Charlton H. Bonham. “Available data indicates the whales still remain in the fishing grounds. This risk assessment focused on the central management area because the northern management area was already delayed due to low meat quality. CDFW staff, collaborators and partners have scheduled additional surveys in the next few weeks that, weather permitting, are anticipated to provide the data necessary to reassess whale presence. Our hope is both quality testing and additional marine life survey data will support a unified statewide opener on Dec. 16, just in time to have crab for the holidays and New Year.”

CDFW is planning additional aerial surveys for the first week of December to inform a risk assessment in advance of Dec. 16. When the data indicates the whales have migrated out of the fishing grounds, CDFW stands ready to open the commercial season.

For more information related to the risk assessment process or this delay, please visit CDFW’s Whale Safe Fisheries page.

For more information on Dungeness crab, please visit wildlife.ca.gov/crab.

###

Media Contacts:
Ryan Bartling, CDFW Marine Region, (415) 761-1843
Jordan Traverso, CDFW Communications, (916) 654-9937