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California Crab Season Delayed to Nov. 23 to Protect Whales From Entanglement

by Center for Biological Diversity
Delay Follows Finding of Elevated Entanglement Risk, Legal Settlement
SACRAMENTO, November 1, 2019 — The California Department of Fish and Wildlife today announced a delay of the Nov. 15 opening of commercial Dungeness crab season to reduce the risk of whale entanglements. This preliminary decision to delay the opening to Nov. 23 was based on data indicating the prevalence of whales off California presents an elevated entanglement risk.

New measures to minimize entanglement risk this season are the result of a court-approved agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity. The Center sued the department in 2017 for failing to prevent the crab fishery from entangling and killing endangered whales and sea turtles. Comments on the preliminary decision will be accepted until 5 p.m. on Nov. 4.

“We’re happy to see an assessment of whale entanglement risk guiding when crab season opens. But we’re still worried about this crab season because California hasn’t made other key reforms,” said Kristen Monsell, legal director of the Center’s oceans program. “Crab gear is still killing humpback whales. With crabbers about to drop thousands of lines into the Pacific, state officials should be doing a lot more to safeguard endangered marine animals.”

Reported whale entanglements dropped slightly this year, but at least three endangered humpback whales have been found entangled in commercial Dungeness crab gear since Aug. 1. One entangled whale died off Santa Cruz Island in August. Another humpback washed up on a beach in Humboldt County entangled, injured and alive, but the whale was euthanized on Oct. 24.

The Center’s lawsuit is suspended after its agreement with the department ended crab season three months early to avoid the spring whale migration, among other provisions. Under the agreement, crab season will now end April 1 in Monterey Bay and other waters off Central California, unless a scientific review demonstrates no entanglement risk. Starting in 2021, the agreement allows the use of ropeless gear in areas otherwise closed to crab fishing.

Entanglements in vertical ropes connected to heavy commercial crab traps cause injuries and death as the ropes cut into the whales’ flesh, sap their strength and lead to drowning.

Each entanglement of a humpback whale, blue whale or leatherback sea turtle violates the federal Endangered Species Act. The state is liable for causing these unlawful entanglements because it authorizes and manages operation of the fishery.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
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