Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, January 12, 2018

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

Northern California's Delayed Crab Season Opener Threatens Whales

State Wildlife Agency Urged to Address Risk of Deadly Entanglements

EUREKA, Calif.— As commercial crabbers drop hundreds of traps into the Pacific Ocean off California’s North Coast this weekend, the Center for Biological Diversity is warning about the dangers they pose to whales, sea turtles and other wildlife.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife delayed the regular November opening of commercial Dungeness crab season north of Sonoma County until Jan. 15 because the crabs hadn’t matured. But state regulators have done little to address the fishery’s skyrocketing entanglements of imperiled whales and sea turtles in recent years, which prompted the Center to sue the wildlife agency in October.

“Crabbers are creating a minefield of deadly obstacles for migrating whales,” said Kristen Monsell, a senior attorney at the Center. “If the pent-up demand for North Coast crabs causes an entanglement hot spot, we will expect the agency to take immediate steps to protect humpbacks and other imperiled animals.”

Heavy commercial crabbing activity is expected off Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte counties this weekend. This will be the first chance many commercial crabbers have had to set traps this season. Those who have caught crabs elsewhere in California must wait 30 days before harvesting crab from this North Coast region, so many crabbers opted to wait for this crab-heavy coastline to open. Crabbers are allowed to set traps 64 hours before the season officially begins Monday morning just after midnight.  

During the 2015-16 crab season, the opener was delayed several months because crabs were tainted by domoic acid, a powerful neurotoxin, due to algae outbreak. After that season opened, almost daily reports of whales entangled in crab lines in Monterey Bay prompted the state to issue a voluntary advisory for crabbers to reduce line density in the region.   

At least 19 humpback whales, two blue whales and one leatherback sea turtle — all protected by the Endangered Species Act — were found tangled up in crab gear off the West Coast in 2016, the last year for which official records are available.

Entanglements in ropes connected to heavy commercial Dungeness crab traps cause injuries and death as the ropes cut into the whales’ flesh, sap their strength and lead to drowning.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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