Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, November 14, 2016

Contact: Kristen Monsell, (510) 844-7137,

As Commercial Crab Season Opens, Fishermen Urged to
Implement Gear Modifications to Prevent Whale Entanglements

OAKLAND, Calif.— As the commercial Dungeness crab season opens in California Nov. 15, the Center for Biological Diversity is urging fishermen to comply with recommended gear modifications to help reduce the risk of whale entanglements. The season’s opening days put whales at high risk because more available crab means fishermen are on the water as many days as possible.

The recommendations were developed by the Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group, formed last year after the Center for Biological Diversity and other groups discovered that West Coast whale entanglements had reached historic highs. In 2015 there were 62 reported entanglements, and 30 whales became entangled in 2014, up from an average of eight per year over the past decade. So far in 2016 there have been at least 61 reported entanglements off the West Coast, on pace to break records for the third year in a row.

“It’s incredibly sad that we’ll likely see yet another year of record-breaking numbers of whales getting tangled up in fishing gear off California’s coast. This tragic, growing trend has to be reversed,” said Kristen Monsell, a Center attorney on the working group. “We’re glad the crab industry is involved with trying to prevent this problem and urge fishermen to implement common-sense gear modifications to help prevent even more whale entanglements this season.”

The recommended gear modifications are part of a “Best Practices Guide” developed by the working group to help reduce the risk of entanglements. The modifications include adjusting the length of trap lines to maintain taut vertical lines, limits on the amount of line from the main buoy to the trailer buoy based on depth of fishing activity, and using no more than one trailer buoy in waters shallower than 30 fathoms. The guide also asks fishermen to avoid setting gear in the vicinity of whales. 

The working group also recommended legislation to implement a lost-gear recovery program, California Senate Bill 1287, which became state law in September but likely won’t be implemented until 2017. Other measures developed by the group include training crabbers to respond to whale entanglements, testing other gear modifications (such as breakaway lines), and improving data collection to identify exactly when and where whales are becoming entangled and in what type of gear. Some of these measures were developed before the 2015-2016 Dungeness crab season, but were not fully implemented because of the shortened season due to poisonous algae blooms. 

The commercial Dungeness crab season opens off most of Central California, which includes San Francisco Bay, Monterey Bay and Morro Bay, on Nov. 15. Waters from Point Reyes to the Sonoma/Mendocino County line, which would normally open Nov. 15, remain closed because of high levels of toxic algae. The commercial season off Northern California, from the Sonoma/Mendocino County line to the Oregon border, is not scheduled to open until Dec. 1. The recreational Dungeness crab season opened Nov. 5 throughout the state.

Whales have been seen entangled up and down the coast, though waters in and around the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary have recently seen the highest number of entanglements.

“These gear modifications are a step in the right direction, but we’re concerned entanglements will increase until new fishing practices are widely adopted. This is a problem we’re monitoring closely,” Monsell said. “We’re looking forward to the day when whales swim freely in California’s waters.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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