As Crab Season Ends, Time to Collect Gear

Commercial crab traps
CDFW photo by C. Juhasz

With the end of the season less than a month away, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) reminds Dungeness crab fishermen that all gear must be removed from the water by the last day of the season. The commercial and recreational fishing seasons close south of the Sonoma/Mendocino county line on Saturday, June 30. North of the Sonoma/Mendocino county line the commercial season closes on Sunday, July 15, while the recreational season closes on Monday, July 30.

The reminder is part of an effort to clear coastal waters of Dungeness crab traps in a timely manner to avoid whale entanglements in the gear. CDFW strongly encourages all fishermen who have Dungeness crab gear in the water to remove any gear that is not actively being fished, and to avoid setting or keeping gear in areas where there are groups of feeding or migrating whales, schools of anchovy, or swarms of krill.

As of June 5, 2018 the California Dungeness Crab Gear Working Group scored three of the four risk factors for whale entanglements as “moderate” as part of the Risk Assessment Mitigation Program being piloted during the 2017-18 Dungeness crab season. The program identifies and monitors factors and circumstances that can elevate whale entanglement risks, and develops pathways to address the situations.

An elevated number of confirmed whale entanglements were observed this May in California waters, as reported to the National Marine Fisheries Service. High concentrations of krill and patchy distribution of anchovy, together with a high number of migrating whales expected to be present throughout California, indicate an elevated risk of whale entanglements in fishing gear. CDFW, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and the Working Group will continue to work collaboratively and monitor any changes in risk, informing the industry as new updates become available.

Following the recommendations in the 2017-18 Best Practices Guide at all times during the fishing season may help to minimize interactions with whales, especially near the end of the season when more whales are likely to be present along the California coast. Some of the Guide’s recommendations are included below:

  • Remove gear, and avoid setting gear, in areas where humpback whales are likely to be feeding or aggregating. Humpback whales prefer feeding on krill, which are often found near the continental shelf break and edges of canyons. During good anchovy years, whales can congregate in the nearshore environment.
  • Minimize the use of trailer buoys. Recognizing that trailer buoys are used for very specific and important reasons, we recommend that fishermen consider working to reduce the amount of trailer buoys and surface line, as needed.
  • Work cooperatively with other crabbers to reduce the amount of gear set in any known “hot spots”. Central California is a known “hot spot” for humpback whale activity, especially from April-November.

Commercial crab traps remaining in the water after the season ends will be considered in violation of Fish and Game Code Section 8276, and may be subject to enforcement action. After the season closes, lost and abandoned gear can be retrieved between July 16 and October 31. Within this timeframe, an unlimited number of commercial Dungeness crab traps can be removed by any commercial Dungeness crab-permitted vessel (per California Code of Regulations Title 14, Section 132.2(a)(2)(E)).

Commercial Dungeness crab fishermen with questions may call CDFW Invertebrate Program Manager Sonke Mastrup at (916) 799-0398, or CDFW Environmental Scientist Christy Juhasz, at (707) 576-2887.

post by Christy Juhasz, CDFW Environmental Scientist