Dungeness crab season postponed in multiple US states

The U.S. West Coast Dungeness crab season has been postponed in multiple states for a variety of reasons.

Last week in California, the Fish and Wildlife Department decided to postpone the start of the season for fishermen south of the Mendocino/Sonoma County line from 15 to 22 November, citing the threat of sea turtle and whale entanglements, according to The Daily Democrat. Data showed that whales were migrating through the area and the delay was enacted out of an abundance of caution.

The decision comes two years after a 2017 court case filed by environmental nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity against the state’s Fish and Wildlife Department. The department is responsible for issuing fishing permits and the lawsuit claimed that that the department hadn’t done enough to prevent crab fishing gear from killing whales and turtles.

“At this time of year, large whales begin to migrate to calving and mating grounds off of southern Mexico and Costa Rica,” said Pieter Folkens, who disentangles whales for NOAA. “A considerable number of whales still remain in our area, taking advantage of available prey. The delay provides those lingering whales extra time to vacate the area, thus reducing the risk of entanglements when the Dungeness crab season begins.”

The timing is not optimal for crab fishermen. “The vast majority of volume comes in the first few weeks,” said Pacific Coast Federation of the Fishermen’s Association Director Noah Oppenheimer. “When there is a healthy market to support and move large amounts, the value of the fishery is increased. Having an extra week before Thanksgiving is a big deal. I don’t think one week is catastrophic but it will cost the fleet millions of dollars.” 550 boats hold permits for the California commercial season.

Meanwhile in northern California, The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the season has been pushed back a minimum of 15 days from when the season was scheduled to begin on 1 December. According to California Department of Fish and Wildlife director Charton Bonham, the delay is due to “soft shell or poor quality crab conditions.” Tests carried out by scientists from the Department of Fish and Wildlife at the beginning of this month determined that the “crabs would not be ready for harvest,” said Bonham. Bonham acknowledged that another delay was possible if the conditions did not improve. 

In Oregon, the season was pushed back to 16 December because of small crab size, according to The Mercury News. The season was set to begin on the first of the month. The Dungeness crab fishery is Oregon’s most lucrative, with last year’s season bringing in USD 66.7 million (EUR 60.35 million).

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said that the season was being delayed to “ensure a high-quality product to consumers and [to] avoid wastage of the resource … Crab quality testing in early November showed that none of the test areas met the meat yield criteria for a 1 December opening. The delayed opening will allow crabs to fill with more meat.” The department’s decision to delay the commercial season will not affect the recreational crabbing season which is set to open off the coast on December 1st.

The Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife has said that it will provide information on the start of the season when a second round of meat quality testing and domoic acid testing is completed. 

Domoic acid is a marine toxin ingested by crabs in their diet. Though recent testings have shown domoic acid build-up in Washington state’s Dungeness crabs is at negligible levels, the California Dungeness crab season has been delayed in recent years due to heightened domoic acid levels.

Photo courtesy of Benedictus/Shutterstock


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