Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, January 28, 2019

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

Court Denies California's Attempt to Delay Whale, Sea Turtle Entanglement Case

SAN FRANCISCO— A federal court has rejected the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s bid to delay a lawsuit alleging it’s not doing enough to prevent its commercial Dungeness crab fishery from entangling whales and sea turtles in violation of the federal Endangered Species Act.

The Center for Biological Diversity sued the department in October 2017 after whale entanglement numbers broke records for three straight years.

“This is an important win in our fight to protect whales and sea turtles from suffering and dying in crabbing gear. It’s time for California regulators to stop delaying and take action,” said Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director at the Center. “The court recognized that it can’t just sit on the sidelines while state officials have no plan to prevent entanglements. Talking and holding endless meetings isn’t enough.”

U.S. District Court Judge Maxine Chesney denied the department’s motion to stay the case for two and a half years while it applies for a federal permit to entangle endangered species, which would require preventive measures.

On Feb. 22 the court is scheduled to consider the Center’s motion for summary judgment, which would find the department liable and require actions to prevent entanglements.

In 2016 federal officials confirmed that the California commercial Dungeness crab fishery entangled at least 23 animals, including 19 humpback whales, two blue whales, one killer whales and a leatherback sea turtle. As of late November, at least 36 whale entanglements had been reported off California in 2018, including at least five humpback whales entangled in California commercial Dungeness crab gear.

“The judge’s decision should be a wake-up call to the department that it’s not doing nearly enough to prevent entanglements in crab gear,” Monsell said. “The time for talk is over. We need meaningful changes on the water now.”

Ropes connected to heavy commercial Dungeness crab traps wrap around whales and sea turtles. The ropes can cut into the animals’ flesh or wrap around their heads, often leading to drowning, starvation or serious injuries. Each entanglement of a humpback whale, blue whale or leatherback sea turtle violates the Endangered Species Act.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.4 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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