California closing Dungeness crab season to protect humpback whales

Fishermen selling fresh live Dungeness crab in Half Moon Bay, California
Fishermen selling fresh live Dungeness crab in Half Moon Bay, California | Photo courtesy of David A Litman/Shutterstock
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The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is closing most of the U.S. state’s commercial Dungeness crab fishery on Monday, 8 April.

California’s zones 3, 4, 5, and 6, stretching from the Sonoma-Mendocino county line to the U.S.-Mexico border, will be closed at 6 p.m. on 8 April due to the presence of humpback whales in the area, with a 30-fathom depth constraint on traps going into effect in zones 1 and 2, which encompasses the rest of the state’s coastline north to the Oregon border.

“Aerial and vessel surveys conducted in mid-March show humpback whale numbers are increasing as they return to forage off the coast of California, elevating entanglement risk,” CDFW said.

CDFW said it plans to carry out its next risk assessment in mid-April 2024 and will reevaluate the closures at that point.

California’s Dungeness crab fishery opened late and was further impeded by a dispute over prices paid by processors. Ultimately, fishermen in San Francisco went fishing at a USD 3.00 (EUR 2.74) per-pound rate after initially striking in hopes of attaining price equivalency with Oregon fishermen, who received USD 3.50 (EUR 3.20) per pound.

The commercial Dungeness crab fishery is one of California's significant fisheries, but for the past six years, the season, which traditionally begins in mid-November, has seen its opening delayed and the end of its season come about earlier than expected due to environmental factors, including low meat fill, the presence of domoic acid, and concern over whale entanglements.

The Dungeness seasons in the U.S. states of Washington and Oregon remain open.

More than 53.7 million pounds have been caught on the U.S. West Coast in the 2024 season. Thus far, crabbers in California have caught 6,034 metric tons (MT) of Dungeness crab worth USD 45.5 million (EUR 42.3 million), fishermen in Oregon have caught 10,628 MT worth USD 86.4 million (EUR 80.3 million), and Washington crabbers have hauled in 7,763 MT worth USD 64.1 million (EUR 59.5 million), according to the Pacific Fisheries Information Network

More than 100 million pounds of Dungeness crab was landed in the combined fishery in 2023, up from 67.1 million pounds in 2022 and 56 million pounds in 2021.

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