No crab for Thanksgiving! Commercial Dungeness crab season is getting delayed for a second time, this time until mid-December, out of concern for the safety of migrating whales who are lingering along the Northern California coast.
The season, which typically begins in mid-November, was already delayed earlier this month and set to begin tomorrow, November 22. The reason then, and the reason for a second delay until December 15, is that crab fishing equipment poses "a significant risk of marine life entanglement," as California's Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Charlton H. Bonham said in a statement Thursday. The delay affects waters south of the Sonoma-Mendocino county line
And this of course means that the Bay Area tradition of crab appetizers at Thanksgiving is blown this time around, unless you're buying crab that was caught elsewhere.
As KRON 4 reports, aerial surveys are finding a high number of whales still foraging along the Point Reyes and Half Moon Bay coasts, and another survey will have to be taken ahead of the December 15 date to ensure that the whales have moved south.
The move appears to be out of an abundance of caution after several years of increasing numbers of whale entanglements in crab equipment. As SFist noted earlier, there were 62 reported incidents of whales caught in crab gear in 2015, followed by 71 incidents in 2016. The Oakland-based Center for Biological Diversity sued the state last year over these whale entanglements.
As Kristen Monsell, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, tells the Chronicle, "Crabbers recognize the very real risk of whale entanglement because thousands upon thousands of lines are dropped when the season starts."
The other potential issue with this Dungeness season is the presence of domoic acid, the neurotoxin found in certain algae that the crabs consume when waters are too warm. High levels of domoic acid significantly delayed crab season in 2015 — and a warm water "blob" forming in the Pacific this year had some experts worried about a repeat of that situation.
Crabs will continue to be tested in the coming weeks. As the Chronicle reports, the Dungeness season for the waters north of the Sonoma-Mendocino county line was set to begin December 1, but that is getting delayed due to "soft shell or poor quality crab conditions."