State closes commercial crab fishery over whale entanglement concerns

A Dungeness crab in an undated California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) photo. The Dungeness crab inhabits eelgrass beds and water bottoms along the west coast of North America and is a popular seafood. A typically crab grows to about 8 inch

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife on Friday announced the closure of the commercial Dungeness crab fishery for a large portion of the state's coast due to recent entanglements involving humpback whales.

The commercial Dungeness crab fishery between the Mendocino-Sonoma County line to the U.S.-Mexico border is set to close at noon on April 8, CDFW officials said.

The closure is being implemented due to two recent incidents in which humpback whales became entangled with ropes from commercial crab traps -- one happening in San Mateo County and another in the Monterey Bay.

Commercial Dungeness crab season traditionally starts in mid-November, however, in recent years the seasons have been continually delayed due to either domoic acid or concerns for whales. This year, the commercial season began on Dec. 29.

"The past few seasons have been difficult for fishing families, communities and businesses, but it is imperative that we strike the right balance between protecting humpback whales and providing fishing opportunity," CDFW director Charlton Bonham said in a statement.

The non-profit organization Center for Biological Diversity applauded the state's move and called for a transition to commercial traps that don't use ropes.

"We're glad to see this closure protect whales from crab gear off California's coast, but recent entanglements show that California has to do more to protect these animals," said Catherine Kilduff, attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity's Oceans program.

"Humpback whales migrate hundreds of miles to Monterey Bay, and state officials should protect every single one while they're feeding there. It's time to get serious about moving to ropeless gear that keeps whales safe off the California coast," she said.

CDWF officials are asking fishermen and boaters to keep an eye out for entangled whales and report them immediately to 1-877-SOS-WHALE or to contact the U.S. Coast Guard on VHF Channel 16.

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