For what's now the fourth year in a row, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is delaying the start of the 2022 commercial Dungeness crab season to safeguard migrating whales from accidental entanglements with fishing gear.

Over 300,000 cetaceans — the group of animals made up by whales, dolphins, and porpoises — die each year as a direct result of being caught in fishing gear and nets. Recent research conducted by the University of St. Andrews in Scotland found that as many as 60% of blue and fin whales will end up entangled at some point in their lives. Moreover: This figure jumps to 80% when looking at just humpback whale populations. (These conclusions were based on data procured through using both drone and on-the-water observations of dorsal scars seen on studied animals.)

In an effort to protect migrating whales traveling along the coast from becoming ensnared by fishing lines, the CA Department of Fish and Wildlife has officially postponed this year's Dungeness crab season.

“Based on recent surveys, large aggregations of humpback whales continue to forage in California coastal waters, and allowing the use of crab traps would increase the risk of an entanglement,” said CDFW Director Charlton H. Bonham in a press release. “We will continue to work with both the recreational and commercial Dungeness crab fisheries to protect whales and sea turtles while striving to maximize fishing opportunities. We appreciate the ongoing commitment by the fleet and the California Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group to protect these incredible animals."

Originally scheduled to begin on November 15, this marks the fourth consecutive time CDFW has halted the start of the state's commercial Dungeness crab season. And for the same, very good reason.

Last year, the Dungeness crab season also ended early out of concerns around whale entanglements. From 2015 to 2020, more than 280 whales were found entangled off the U.S. West Coast — mostly off California — and the numbers have remained lower than average since measures like these were put into place.

Before 2018, it was common for over 60 whales to be documented as having either collided with a fishing vessel or become entangled with fishing gear. However, over the past four years, that number has been slashed in half, on average, partially due to the timing of CA's Dungeness crab season; CDFW uses aerial surveys and historic feeding and migration patterns to assess marine wildlife risk.

CDFW anticipates it will conduct another risk assessment once or before November 23. Once complete, the department will then re-evaluate the temporary recreational crab trap restriction and commercial fishery across most of the state.

The current in-place restrictions and delays don't affect recreational fishing of Dungeness crabs that use other less dangerous methods to marine life, like hoop nets and crab snares, which are allowed statewide beginning November 5.

Related: After Two Whale Entanglements, Most Dungeness Crab Fishing Off California Will End Early

Photo: Getty Images/David Gonzalez