For Immediate Release, June 9, 2016
West Coast Whale Entanglements Increasing, On Pace for Another Record Year
OAKLAND, Calif.— Nearly 40 reports of whales entangled in fishing gear have been recorded off the West Coast in 2016 — including at least 20 whales that are estimated to still be entangled — putting this year on pace to break the record for the third straight year. Although some whales are able to escape from fishing gear, often with the help of California Whale Rescue teams that are now being overwhelmed with entanglement reports, those that continue to drag fishing gear can die slow, painful deaths.
In response to the latest figures, the Center for Biological Diversity today called on Dungeness crab fishermen to heed last month’s voluntary advisory and remove more fishing lines from Monterey Bay and other entanglement hot spots where whales, including endangered humpback and blue whales, are now feeding. The Center also urged regulators to take swift action to address the problem. In addition to whales, one critically endangered leatherback sea turtle was reported entangled, and ultimately disentangled, in the Monterey area in April.
“This has become a crisis. We recognize that crabbers don’t want to harm whales, and now they need to act to avoid important biological areas where whales feed,” said Kristen Monsell, a Center attorney who sits on the Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group, which the state convened last year to address the problem. “Monterey Bay has become a deadly obstacle course for all the whales we’re now seeing there.”
There have been at least four new whale entanglements reported since the California Department of Fish and Wildlife issued its May 24 advisory to crab-vessel permit holders, calling for them to voluntarily reduce the use of trailer buoys and remove gear from Monterey Bay and the shelf edges and canyons where krill and small fish are now abundant. Anecdotal reports indicate that a significant amount of fishing gear remains in those areas, where some of the new entanglements have been reported.
California Whale Rescue Director Kathi Koontz said there have been 39 unique entanglement reports this year, including 35 since the delayed start of commercial crab season in late March (the season ends June 30). The National Marine Fisheries Service confirmed 61 reported whale entanglements in 2015 and 30 confirmed in 2014, which was up from an average of eight per year the previous decade and three per year the decade before that.
“This is a perfect storm — there’s a lot of competition among crabbers during this shortened season and lots of whales off our coast because of the warm water. The advisory should work to reduce entanglements, but fishermen are essential to its success,” Monsell said. “We need the crab industry to act with the sense of urgency that this situation deserves.”
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.