Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, June 26, 2018

Contact:  Kristen Monsell, (914) 806-3467,

     California Legislators Urge Wildlife Officials to Protect Whales, Sea Turtles from Entanglement

Assembly Committee Approves SB1309, Requiring New Regulations for Commercial Dungeness Crab Fishery

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Legislation approved today in the California Assembly would require the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to adopt regulations to prevent whales and sea turtles from being entangled in commercial Dungeness crab lines.

Senate Bill 1309 clarifies the department’s authority and obligation to address the West Coast entanglements that have skyrocketed in recent years. The legislation by Sen. Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg), which was already unanimously approved by the California Senate, was approved today by the Assembly Committee on Water, Parks, and Wildlife. It now heads to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

The Center for Biological Diversity last year sued the department after three consecutive record-breaking years of whale entanglements. The pending lawsuit urges the department to better regulate the crab fishery to protect endangered whales and sea turtles from entanglements, including through temporary closures in Monterey Bay and other entanglement hot spots.

“The department has dragged its feet on preventing entanglements for too long. This bill will finally force California officials to protect endangered whales and sea turtles, as federal law requires,” said Kristen Monsell, the Center’s oceans program legal director, who testified at today’s hearing. “We believe the department already has the authority and obligation to properly regulate this fishery, and this legislation will make that crystal clear.”

The legislation, also known as the Fisheries Omnibus Bill of 2018, requires the department to adopt a comprehensive set of new regulations to minimize the risk of commercial crab gear entangling marine life by 2020. In the interim, it clarifies the department’s authority to close regions of the fishery or take other actions to prevent entanglements.     

West Coast whale entanglements have broken records in recent years. There were 71 reported whale entanglements in 2016, and 62 in 2015. There were 30 reported entanglements in 2014. A total of 41 whales were reported entangled off the West Coast in 2017, more than quadruple the annual average from before 2014.

Earlier this month, the department introduced the first new regulations to change crabbing gear to reduce entanglements. The rules would allow retrieval of crab traps abandoned by their owners and limit the number of buoys and the length of line on active crab traps. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife will hold a public hearing to consider those new rules on July 31.

“We’re glad to see California finally addressing this epidemic of whale and sea turtle entanglements,” Monsell said. “Endangered whales and turtles need fewer deadly traps and lines where they live. This committee vote affirms California’s commitment to conservation of ocean animals.”

Entanglements in ropes connected to heavy commercial Dungeness crab traps cause injuries and death as they cut into the whales’ flesh, sap their strength and lead to drowning. Each entanglement of a humpback whale, blue whale or leatherback sea turtle violates the federal Endangered Species Act.

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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