SAN FRANCISCO – The State of California recently announced it is temporarily closing critical Dungeness crab fishing zones, during an already shortened season, due to the expected arrival of humpback whales in feeding areas off the Golden State.
According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the restrictions will run from north of San Francisco to the U.S.-Mexico border and begin April 15.
The Dungeness crab season typically begins in November and runs through June, but due to whale sightings at the beginning of the season, harvesters faced delays in 2022.
Biologists said the whales use waters in the eastern Pacific to feed before migrating during the winter but entanglements with crabbing and fishing gear in the past have forced agencies to take additional measures to protect the species.
"The fleet has done an impressive job helping CDFW manage entanglement risk in the commercial fishery and appreciates the high level of involvement to inform the risk assessment process," CDFW Director Charlton Bonham said in a statement. "We applaud the Working Group for their dedication and continued focus on the long-term viability of the fishery that helps ensure we protect future opportunities to bring Dungeness crab to Californians and provide protection for whales and sea turtles off our coast."
The closing of large harvesting zones is a disappointment to fishermen who have already dealt with a decreasing amount of the economically important crab.
NOAA Fisheries estimates that the Dungeness crab harvest is worth a quarter-billion dollars annually, but due to increasing algal blooms, warmer water and ocean acidification, populations have declined.
Dungeness crabs are not the only marline animals that have seen a sudden decrease. Snow crab season off Alaska was canceled in 2022 due to what biologists said was a concerning drop in its population.
A four-year-long study is underway in the region that experts hope will determine environmental stressors on marine life and how to prepare for additional impacts of climate change.
California officials warn additional harvesting zones could close sooner than expected if whales are spotted migrating farther northward than anticipated.