Reducing the Risk of Marine Life Entanglement

Humpback whale
CDFW photo by P. Serpa

The Dungeness crab fishery has undergone significant changes due to new legislation, changing ocean conditions, and more recently risk of marine life entanglement, specifically with whales and sea turtles. The following update provides important information on several items affecting the commercial fleet.

California Commercial Dungeness Crab Season Changes for 2019-2020
As a result of recent legislation (SB 1309), the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Director now has the authority to implement in-season management measures in response to marine life entanglement risk. During the upcoming season, CDFW will work closely with the California Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group to regularly assess entanglement risk and recommend management measures as appropriate. Under a recent settlement agreement (Center for Biological Diversity v Bonham), CDFW has also committed to assessing entanglement risk beginning November 1, 2019 through July 1, 2020.

In the event of increased risk of entanglement, changes to in-season management measures may include season delay, area closures and crab trap (pot) reductions during spring months, as species of concern begin migrating into California waters. CDFW will provide notice to the fleet of any in-season management changes via press release; posting to CDFW Crabs and Whale Safe Fisheries web pages, and through the Dungeness Crab Task Force, California Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group, and CDFW Crab email listservs. CDFW will also work with the U.S. Coast Guard to make informational broadcasts on VHF Channel 16.

Working Group Best Practices Guide
The California Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group has produced an updated Best Practices Guide for the 2019-2020 fishing season. CDFW also reminds fishermen that it is illegal to leave trap gear unattended for more than 96 hrs, and recommends that those no longer making Dungeness crab landings remove their trap gear (including pots, lines and buoys) from the water as soon as possible.

Conservation Plan and Incidental Take Permit
CDFW is developing a conservation plan to address protected species interactions in the Dungeness crab fishery. Species of concern include humpback whales, blue whales and leatherback turtles. The conservation plan is one component of CDFW’s application for an Incidental Take Permit under Section 10 of the federal Endangered Species Act. CDFW is scoping key elements of the conservation plan with the California Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group and will be hosting public workshops and meetings during Winter 2019 and Spring 2020 to solicit additional input from interested stakeholders. For more information about the Incidental Take Permit process and to learn about upcoming opportunities for involvement please visit the CDFW Whale Safe Fisheries web page.

Trap Gear Innovation
In close collaboration with the California Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group, CDFW is investigating gear modifications and innovations which may reduce the likelihood and/or severity of marine life entanglements. CDFW hosted an open house with gear innovators and Working Group members in March 2019; the conversation focused on the Working Group’s guidelines for pop-up gear. CDFW also hosted an on-the-water gear demonstration day in September 2019 during which Yale grip sleeves, GPS tracking buoys, and multiple pop-up gear systems were tested. For more information visit the CDFW Whale Safe Fisheries web page or contact Ryan Bartling, CDFW Senior Environmental Scientist Specialist, at (707) 576-2877 regarding any of the topics mentioned in this article.

post by Ryan Bartling, CDFW Senior Environmental Scientist Specialist