California cuts short commercial Dungeness crab season

SAN FRANCISCO - NOVEMBER 15: Freshly caught crab is seen in a bin after being unloaded from a boat on the first day of dungeness crab season November 15, 2006 in San Francisco, California. Dungeness crab season officially began today after crab fishe

California will cut short the commercial Dungeness crab season to protect humpback whales from becoming entangled in trap and buoy lines, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife announced Thursday.

Commercial fishing will end on April 15 from the Mendocino county line to the Mexican border, the agency said. It will still be allowed in the waters off Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte counties.

Recreational crabbing also will be allowed.

The crab industry is one of California's major fisheries and the shellfish is especially popular around the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

The season traditionally begins Nov. 15 and runs through late June, but it already had been pushed back to New Year's Eve after three earlier delays.

Fish and game officials are concerned that humpback whales can get caught in the vertical ropes connected to heavy commercial traps. They can drag the ropes around for months, leaving them injured, starved or so exhausted that they can drown.

MORE: California's commercial Dungeness crab season opens Dec. 31

Humpback whales migrate north annually from Mexico's Baja California peninsula where they birth calves. In spring, summer and fall the humpbacks feed on anchovies, sardines and krill off the California coast before heading back south.

The whales are expected to return to California in the next few weeks.

The fish and game department previously reported that at least 15 humpback whales were entangled in fishing gear off California last year.