Central California Dungeness season opens, but Northwest awaits 2020

Published on
December 18, 2019

With the danger of whale entanglements eased, the Dungeness crab season for central California opened Sunday, 15 December. But lackluster meat quality led the Northwest state fisheries manager to delay opening other coastal areas until after the New Year.

Officials from California, Oregon, and Washington state wildlife agencies conferred on 6 December and agreed on the delay, citing meat recovery values still below 25 percent in areas on the northern coast. The continuing closure will remain in effect from Point Arena, California, north to the Canadian border, according to a joint statement issued through the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Testing protocols specify season delays for any area where sampled crabs do not meet the minimum standards for meat recovery, with additional testing required before a new opening date can be set. The state agencies are sampling again in mid-December, with an eye to having complete results 20 December.

It’s a rocky start to the beginning of the winter fishery that has had more than its share of problems, from domoic acid to marine mammal conflicts. The California opener originally set for 22 November was delayed, after the Bodega Bay crabbing fleet voted to voluntarily hold back from deploying their gear until a large number of endangered humpback whales had finished feeding in their near-shore zone.

The Bodega Bay crabbers weighed the loss of the initial days of the season against the danger that a whale entanglement with their gear could trigger a shutdown of the fishery – and possibly loss of the entire season. With other crabbers signing on to the delay, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife set a new date of 15 December for the central coast.

North of Point Arena, crabbers must await new meat analysis, although California officials set contingency plans for a possible 31 December opening.

“Delays due to quality affect the entire northern commercial fishery in Mendocino, Humboldt, and Del Norte counties,” according to a notice by state officials. “The season in these districts is now scheduled to open at 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, [31 December, 2019], to be preceded by a 64-hour gear setting period that would begin no earlier than 8:01 a.m. on [28 December, 2019].”

“Additional testing will be scheduled to occur by [20 December] to determine whether the season can open on [31 December] or will be delayed once more until [15 January, 2020],” the notice stated.

Photo courtesy of Oregon Sea Grant

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