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 Announces Quality Delay for Commercial Dungeness Crab in Northern Fishery, and Important Updates to Pending Opening in Central Fishery

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is providing the following information and important updates on the status of the Northern and Central California commercial Dungeness crab fisheries.

Northern Management Area (Fish and Game Districts 6, 7, 8 and 9):

In a memo released today, CDFW Director Charlton H. Bonham delayed the northern California commercial Dungeness crab season due to poor crab meat quality test results. The delayed area in the north includes Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte counties (Fish and Game Districts 6, 7, 8 and 9).

The northern Dungeness crab fishery is delayed until 12:01 a.m. on Monday, Dec. 16, 2019 pending another round of testing tentatively scheduled on or around Dec. 1. If these results indicate good quality and there is no area under an additional domoic acid delay, the fishery will open Monday, Dec. 16, and be preceded by a 64-hour gear setting period that would begin 8:01 a.m. on Friday, Dec. 13, 2019.

Crab are evaluated to compare meat weight to total crab weight to determine whether they are ready for harvest under testing guidelines established by the Tri-State Dungeness Crab Committee in conjunction with tests done in Oregon and Washington. If results indicate poor crab quality, the CDFW director may delay the fishery under authority of Fish and Game Code, section 8276.2.

“This industry-supported quality test determines if Dungeness crab have filled out in time following their molting period,” said CDFW Environmental Scientist Christy Juhasz.

If the next round of quality testing continues to show low quality crab, Director Bonham has the authority to delay the season an additional 15 days, until Dec. 31. The season can be delayed no later than Jan. 15, which is what happened in the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 seasons.

Central Management Area (Fish and Game Districts 10 and south):

The Central Management Area (Sonoma County and south) was delayed seven days by declaration of the Director to avoid marine life entanglements and opens at 12:01 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 22, assuming no additional delays due to domoic acid. This opening is preceded by an 18-hour gear setting period that would begin no earlier than 6:01 a.m. on Nov. 21.

However, ocean waters between Point Reyes, Marin County (38° 00.00’ N. latitude) and the northern boundary of Pillar Point State Marine Conservation Area in San Mateo County (37° 30.00’ N. latitude) has yet to clear for domoic acid. The opening or delay of the fishery in this area will be announced prior to 6 p.m. on Nov. 20.  If the scheduled opener in this area is declared delayed, the fleet will be informed when the area is cleared of domoic acid and, pursuant to Fish and Game Code, section 5523, will be given a 72-hour notice before pre-soak is to commence.

The fleet will be notified via press release and the Dungeness Crab Task Force email listserv as well as the CDFW Domoic Acid Fishery Closure Information Line at (831) 649-2883. All individuals planning to fish in this area are strongly encouraged to check these sources in order to confirm the opening time prior to setting their gear in this area.

For more information, please visit www.wildlife.ca.gov/crab and read CDFW’s Frequently Asked Questions on the 2019-2020 Dungeness crab commercial season.

For more information on health advisories related to fisheries, please visit www.wildlife.ca.gov/fishing/ocean/health-advisories.

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Media Contacts:
Christy Juhasz, CDFW Marine Region, (707) 576-2887 
Jordan Traverso, CDFW Communications, (916) 654-9937

CDFW Director Issues Declaration to Delay Commercial Dungeness Crab Season South of Mendocino/Sonoma County Line

California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Director Charlton H. Bonham has issued a declaration delaying the Nov. 15, 2019 start date for the California Dungeness crab fishery south of the Mendocino/Sonoma county line. Under the authority of section 8276.1(c)(1) of the Fish and Game Code, the Director may restrict take of commercial Dungeness crab after making a preliminary determination that there is a significant risk of marine life entanglement due to fishing gear. The opening of the commercial Dungeness crab fishery in that area (Districts 10, 17,18 and 19) will be delayed until Nov. 22, 2019. Pursuant to Fish and Game Code, section 8283, traps may be set and baited 18 hours in advance of the opening date. A pre-soak period can commence at 6 a.m. on Nov. 21, 2019.

CDFW would like to acknowledge the commitment by the Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group and various stakeholders to help inform management of this important commercial fishery. CDFW understands the crab fishery’s value to coastal communities and is committed to ensuring a robust fishery while taking appropriate steps to minimize marine life entanglements to the extent practicable.

Before taking this action, the Director considered all recommendations and information provided within the public notice period that ended at 5 p.m. on Nov. 4 in advance of enacting this delay. Comments received resulted in the Director shortening the delay from eight to seven days.

Through the course of the crab season, CDFW will engage regularly with the Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group to review scientific information and advise efforts to minimize the risk of whale and sea turtle entanglements. 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 webpage. Commercial fishery participants should also be aware that additional delays are possible due to human health risks from domoic acid and should monitor the California Department of Public Health’s website for the latest results.

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

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Media Contacts:
Jordan Traverso, CDFW Communications, (916) 654-9937

Ryan Bartling, CDFW Marine Region, (707) 576-2877

CDFW Director Issues Preliminary Determination to Delay Commercial Dungeness Crab Season South of Mendocino/Sonoma County Line

California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Director Charlton H. Bonham has issued a preliminary determination that the Nov. 15, 2019 start date for the California Dungeness crab fishery south of the Mendocino/Sonoma county line poses a significant risk of marine life entanglement. The anticipated management response is a delay of the opening of the commercial Dungeness crab fishery in that area from Nov. 15 to Nov. 23, 2019.

Under the authority of section 8276.1(c)(1) of the Fish and Game Code, the Director may restrict take of commercial Dungeness crab if there is a significant risk of marine life entanglement due to fishing gear. 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.

“In making this determination, we considered the input of the Working Group and its advisors through a structured decision-making process in which diverse interests were represented including fishing, environmental and management agencies,” said Director Bonham.

Before enacting the proposed management measure, Director Bonham will consider any recommendations or new information provided by 5 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 4, 2019. Anyone with recommendations and information related to this preliminary determination should submit it to whalesafefisheries@wildlife.ca.gov by that deadline.

In addition to this preliminary determination of delay due to a significant risk of whale entanglements, additional delays are possible due to human health risks or poor crab quality. Through the course of the crab season, CDFW will engage regularly with the Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group to review scientific information and monitor and adapt to the risk of whale entanglements. Based on that process, CDFW could take future management actions. For more information related to the preliminary determination of delay please visit CDFW’s Whale Safe Fisheries page.

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

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Media Contacts:
Jordan Traverso, CDFW Communications, (916) 654-9937
Ryan Bartling, CDFW Marine Region, (707) 576-2877