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.

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

California Fisheries Relief Funding Soon to be Available for Select Sectors Affected by COVID-19

Coastal and marine fishery participants – including licensed commercial fishermen, fish buyers, aquaculture businesses, charter boat owners and guides – who have experienced a loss of income due to the effects of COVID-19 may be eligible for federal relief funding disbursed through the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW).

The funding is part of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. This more than $2 trillion economic relief package provides direct economic assistance for American workers, families and small businesses that have been impacted COVID-19. About $18 million in CARES funding was earmarked specifically for fisheries assistance in California.

CDFW estimates that there are more than 11,500 potentially eligible applicants for this funding, including individuals who work in the offshore, shoreside, aquaculture, commercial passenger fishing vessel and guide sectors.

Eligibility will be based on, among other things, a minimum 35 percent loss of fishing related income due to COVID-19 between Jan. 1 and June 30, 2020. Applicants must also submit documentation demonstrating active involvement in a qualifying sector. See the approved disbursement plan.

The Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission (PSMFC) is serving as fiscal agent for these funds. PSMFC will mail claim forms to all potentially eligible applicants to the address on file with CDFW. Forms and documentation must be returned within 30 days to be eligible for disbursement. Following the close of the 30-day response period, final disbursement totals will be calculated and relief checks will be issued to qualified applicants. CDFW is requesting all potentially eligible applicants update their address on file by Monday, Aug. 17, 2020. See the address verification instructions.

For more information, please refer to CDFW’s web page for the CARES Act. Email inquiries can be sent to CDFW at CARESfisheriesInfo@wildlife.ca.gov.

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Media Contacts:
Craig Shuman, CDFW Marine Region, (916) 215-9694
Kirsten Macintyre, CDFW Communications, (916) 804-1714

Dungeness Crab Commercial Season Update

Today, California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Director Charlton H. Bonham issued a preliminary determination that commercial Dungeness crab fishing in the Central Management Area (CMA) (Districts 10, 17 and south) poses a significant risk of marine life entanglement. The anticipated management response by Director Bonham is a May 15 closure of California Dungeness crab fishery south of the Mendocino/Sonoma county line.

On April 9, 2020 the California Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group (Working Group) met to review available data and provide a recommendation to the Director based on the Risk Assessment and Mitigation Program (RAMP) framework. A majority of the Working Group members determined all four RAMP factors remain low relative to entanglement risk in the CMA at this moment in time in early- to mid-April, while a minority assessed risk as moderate due to the increasing numbers of Humpback whales within the fishing grounds. The Working Group reached consensus in determining low risk for the Northern Management Area (NMA) for all four RAMP factors. Based on this assessment of risk, a majority of the Working Group did not recommend any additional mandatory management measures at this time for either the CMA or NMA. A minority recommended a precautionary management approach in the CMA.

Neither the majority nor minority recommendations dispute that whales are currently in their annual migration up the California coast, and that it is a matter of time before larger congregations are likely in the commercial crab fishing areas.

Based on independent analysis of risk factors for marine life entanglement, CDFW has assessed the risk of entanglement in the CMA as elevated. This assessment is based on the increasing numbers of Humpback whales observed in the fishing grounds. In addition, risk will continue to increase based on historical whale and sea turtle migration patterns. During the spring and summer months Humpback whales, Blue whales and Pacific Leatherback sea turtles return to forage in areas that overlap with commercial Dungeness crab fishing.

As a result, CDFW is recommending a closure of the commercial Dungeness crab fishery in the CMA on May 15, 2020 at 11:59 p.m. to help minimize risk of entanglement. It is important to clarify that CDFW is not recommending any closure between today and May 15, covering the next 30 days. During the Working Group, representatives from industry advised that they would require 30 days to remove fishing gear in a timely and safe manner, given challenges under COVID-19 and weather predictions. Targeting a May 15 end to this season allows orderly removal of gear while continued fishing opportunity would exist and anticipates closure before the presence of marine mammals increases more. This approach also allows 30 days more fishing than last year’s commercial Dungeness crab season.

This recommendation is further supported by the frequent occurrence of spring whale entanglements. Since 2013 there have been a total of 21 Humpback whale entanglements observed from March through June. All years except 2013 and 2019 recorded confirmed entanglements with commercial Dungeness crab gear during this period, noting that the season closed on April 15 in 2019.

Under the authority of Fish and Game Code section 8276.1(c)(1), the Director may restrict take of commercial Dungeness crab if the fishery is being conducted in a way that poses a significant risk of marine life entanglement. As required in Fish and Game Code section 8276.1(c)(4), the Director is providing 48 hours’ notice to the California Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group and other stakeholders prior to making a final determination.

Director Bonham will consider any recommendations or new information provided by 5:30 p.m. on Friday, April 17, 2020. Anyone with recommendations and information related to this preliminary determination should submit it to whalesafefisheries@wildlife.ca.gov by that deadline.

Despite this preliminary determination for the commercial Dungeness crab fishery in the CMA, CDFW understands the challenges faced by California’s commercial fishing industry during these difficult times. CDFW is committed to working with our industry partners to maximize their ability to safely deliver fresh, sustainably caught, seafood during the COVID-19 crisis. Further, we will continue to explore options to assist commercial fishermen regarding federal funds earmarked for fisheries and aquaculture in the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act. Finally, we encourage local ports and harbors to maintain continuity of commercial fisheries and sales of fish in a manner consistent with the health and safety guidelines issued by the California Department of Public Health and local public health officials.

For the latest information on the Dungeness crab season, please visit wildlife.ca.gov/crab and 2019-2020 Dungeness Crab Fishery Best Practices Guide.

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

Commercial Dungeness Crab Fishery Update: Entanglement Risk Low, Fishery to Remain Open

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is providing the following important update on the status of the commercial California Dungeness crab fishery which includes the Northern Management Area (Fish and Game Districts 6, 7, 8 and 9) and Central Management Area (Fish and Game Districts 10 and south).

On March 25, 2020, the California Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group convened to review current data and conduct an updated risk assessment to evaluate the risk of marine life entanglement. The Working Group recommendation was unanimously low risk across three of the four risk factors. The risk factor of marine life concentration in the Northern Management Area was inferred low risk by majority recommendation and unknown by a minority recommendation. However, the entire Working Group agreed that no management action was necessary at this time.

Informed by this recommendation and after careful consideration of available data, the CDFW Director determined that no management action is necessary at this time; the season will remain open for both the Northern and Central Management Areas. The Director and the Working Group however encourage the fleet to continue to use Best Practices when fishing and to be ready to quickly respond to a management change at any time. Given historic migration patterns, significant numbers of whales typically return to the fishing grounds in April or May each year.

For the remainder of the commercial season, CDFW will continue to collect data to inform bi-weekly risk assessments by the Working Group. Based on that process, CDFW will likely take additional management actions in response to future risk assessments. Management action may occur at any time as conditions related to entanglement risk change. CDFW is committed to providing the fleet with as much advance notice as possible should the Director determine a management response is appropriate. For more information related to the risk assessment process, please visit CDFW’s Whale Safe Fisheries webpage.

CDFW would also like to acknowledge the importance of commercial fishing to maintaining and securing our food supply. Commercial fishermen are reminded of the importance of maintaining a safe physical distance of 6 feet from others when outside of their home and to be vigilant about the role they must play to minimize the spread of COVID-19.

For more information, please see CDFW’s Frequently Asked Questions regarding the 2019-2020 Dungeness crab commercial season or www.wildlife.ca.gov/conservation/marine/invertebrates/crabs.

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

CDFW fish hatchery planting trucks

CDFW’s Salmon Evacuation Decision Pays Exceptional Dividends

In February 2017, damage to the Oroville Dam’s spillways prompted the evacuation of more than 180,000 people living downstream along the Feather River. The raging muddy waters also triggered an emergency decision to relocate millions of young salmon from the Feather River Hatchery to the Thermalito Annex Hatchery to be raised and held until river water conditions improved. Most, if not all, of the young salmon would have otherwise died when mud from the raging river overwhelmed the hatchery waters.

About 2 million spring run Chinook and 5 million fall run Chinook were evacuated during the two-day flood event. Those fish survived and were later released to the wild – helping fuel a record class salmon harvest in the ocean two years later.

Last year, most of the rescued salmon had matured in the ocean and were ready for their migration home to the Feather River. Their survival helped power strong ocean fisheries with one of the largest commercial catches in decades. According to data collected by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), approximately 272,000 salmon were harvested in the commercial fishery along with a catch of nearly 88,500 in the recreational ocean fishery, while returns to the Feather River basin exceeded 70,000 in 2019.

Ocean fishing activities were an economic stimulus for local communities and industries along the coast and inland. Commercial trollers landed 2.6 million pounds of salmon valued at more than $17.2 million, which was the highest level of harvest since 2013. The Feather River Hatchery was estimated to have contributed one quarter of all commercially harvested salmon and one third of the recreational ocean harvest.

“The return of the salmon released from Feather River Hatchery after the flood event was exceptional,” said Kevin Shaffer, CDFW Acting Chief of the Wildlife Branch. “At several points in the crisis, the majority (if not all) of the young salmon could have been lost. If not for the hard work, ingenuity and dedication of the hatchery employees and staff we could have ended up with nothing.”

The effort to save the young salmon began on Feb. 9 and 10, 2017. More than 60 people from CDFW, the California Department of Water Resources, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries and other agencies worked night and day to successfully transfer more than 5 million Chinook salmon to the Thermalito Annex hatchery facility nine miles away. Fisheries and engineering staff also constructed an emergency filtration system for the remaining salmon and steelhead at the Oroville facility, saving an estimated 1.5 million fall Chinook salmon fry that were too small to move and 1.6 million steelhead eggs which lead to a returning year class of 1,874 steelhead in 2018-19.

On March 20, 2017, the first salmon to be released after the evacuation were 1 million state and federally listed threatened spring-run Chinook salmon. They were released successfully into the Feather River. In all, a total of 2 million spring-run Chinook and 5 million fall-run Chinook were released.

Their work did not go unnoticed. Team members received a letter of appreciation from then-Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, and were later presented with the CDFW Director’s “Team Award” for their ingenuity and dedicated work to save the salmon and steelhead eggs.

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Media Contacts:
Harry Morse, CDFW Communications, (208) 220-1169
Jay Rowan, CDFW North Coast Region, (916) 358-2883