In an attempt to safeguard marine life, the commercial harvesting season for California’s Dungeness crab will be postponed until November 22nd, a full week past its original start date and uncomfortably close to Thanksgiving.
The Chronicle reported Wednesday that after recent aerial surveys off the California coastline revealed active populations of cetaceans, including blue and humpback whales, and other marine life, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) elected to delay this year’s commercial Dungeness crab season for seven days, though still a day shorter than a previous proposal brought forth by the Center for Biological Diversity.
The Phoenix-based conservation and environmental advocacy group has been ensuring the Golden State better looks after migrating and resident whale populations for years, having sued them in 2018 (after two years of intense litigation) over a record number of reported whale “entanglements."
This year’s season delay is a response to just that issue.
62 incidents of whales snarled in crab boating equipment were observed in 2015, followed by 71 in 2016. Previous to that, around 10 to 30 accounts of cetacean entanglement happened each Dungeness crabbing season, primarily centered south of the Mendocino-Sonoma County coastline.
A reason for that uptick in trappings is theorized to be a consequence of warmer ocean waters off the coast, which bring humpback whales, the species most commonly involved, closer to shore to feed – and, incidentally, to find themselves in the way of crabbing nets.
With a lack of an El Nino in 2017, the number of reported accidents went back down to 31 that year, likely a result of more frigid waters returning to California’s coastlines. Now amidst the forecasted return of an El Nino this year, coupled with the return of the infamous warm-water “blob” in the Pacific — responsible for blanketing the West Coast with blooms of toxic algae between 2014 and 2016, wreaking havoc on oceanic wildlife and effectively canceling Dungeness season — both the CDFW and Center for Biological Diversity are hoping this week-long delay will help protect nearby whales from unnecessary harm.
Charlton “Chuck” Bonham, the director for CDFW, told the Chronicle that the state’s wildlife department will also work in tandem with the California Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group to “minimize the risk” of marine wildlife complications during this season and for future ones, as well. Bonham also added the CDFW could necessitate more wildlife safety actions need be, depending on what yet-gathered information is presented and future risk assessments.
According to the Press Democrat, Bonham had originally wanted to push the date back as far as the 23rd, a ways behind the season’s normal November 15th start time, but regional fisheries strongly rejected that idea, noting the decision would only further shorten their fishing efforts during the season’s “prime time.” (Thankfully though, if you're hoping to serve crab as part of your 2019 Thanksgiving feast, the 22nd harvest date shouldn't affect your plans to do so.)
Valued at nearly $70M as of 2018, per The Orange County Register, California’s Dungeness crab fishery is one of the state’s most lucrative marine business enterprises.
All we can hope for now is that the 2019 crustacean bounty is safe to eat and absent of any domoic acid, a neurotoxin produced by red algae that is lethal to mammals, that were found in crabs caught during the 2015 season. Authorities are recommending that those cooking Dungeness crab this year should discard the cooking water and remove all internal organs before eating, as a precaution.
Image: Flickr via Christopher Michel