All but one commercial Dungeness crab season has been postponed since 2015, with this year’s season stalled after whales were seen near the Farallon Islands — a popular crabbing area. Now that they're migrating elsewhere, the 2020 commercial Dungeness crab season is slated to start on December 23.
Between domoic acid blooms and cetaceans (i.e. dolphins, whales, and porpoises) moving closer to crabbing areas because of climate change, start dates for Dungeness crab seasons over the past five years have remained unpredictable. This year too, San Franciscans were again dealt a "no-crab-for-Thanksgiving." However, recent aerial surveys conducted by the California Fish and Wildlife Department (CFWD) showed most whales have started their annual migration out of California waters and toward their winter breeding grounds off the coast of Mexico — making it acceptable for crabbing to continue in those areas.
Commercial Dungeness Crab Update https://t.co/3tc1Vk68pa— California Department of Fish and Wildlife (@CaliforniaDFW) December 12, 2020
“Available data indicates some whales remain in the fishing grounds but the risk is declining and CDFW supports a balanced approach to managing risk and providing an opportunity for the commercial fishery that is grounded in expert science,” state officials said in a release published by KPIX.
But as CFWD, net entanglements and propeller injuries are still a possibility with some humpback whales — the species most present around these crabbing waters — still present.
"Whale entanglement risk still exists, but it is low," adds CDFW Director Charlton H. Bonham in the same release. "Thus, the opening declaration is accompanied by a notice to the fleet to use [the safest fishing practices] and avoid areas where whales may be congregating including around the canyon edges of Monterey, and between the Farallon Islands and Point Reyes."
Previously, CDFW suggested opening the season on December 16, but the Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group — a collective that also includes members of commercial crab fleets, environmental organizations, and other agencies — chose to enact a seven-day delay to give both the time for more cetaceans to leave the area, as well as offer crabbers the opportunity to gather gear.
CDFW has said the department will continue to stay in regular contact with the Working Group to "review scientific information"; that information will be used to mitigate hurt on oceanic wildlife and maximize crabbing opportunities for fishermen already reeling from financial plights caused by the pandemic.
Image: Courtesy of CDFW