SAN FRANCISCO - After three delays, the commercial Dungeness crab season in California will finally open on New Year's Eve, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife announced Thursday.
The start of the season had been curtailed in order to protect humpback whales from becoming entangled in trap and buoy lines.
Some whales still remain in their winter feeding grounds off the coast of San Francisco Bay and so only half as many traps as usual will be allowed in all areas south of the Sonoma/Mendocino county line, the regulatory agency said.
Some two dozen humpbacks were spotted in the region last week, the department said.
Commercial crabbing also had been delayed in Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte counties because of poor meat quality but "recent tests indicate crab are ready for market," the department said.
The crab industry is one of California's major fisheries and the shellfish is especially popular around the holidays.
The commercial season traditionally begins Nov. 15 for waters between the Mendocino county line and the border with Mexico.
Humpback whales can get caught in the vertical ropes connected to heavy commercial traps, which they can drag around for months, leaving them injured, starved or so exhausted that they can drown.
The fish and game department said last month that there have been at least 15 confirmed entanglements of humpback whales by fishing gear off California this year, including three involving Dungeness crab gear.
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.