SANTA CRUZ—Based on updated information and in response to concerns from the commercial Dungeness crab fleet, including written requests from Port Associations to further delay, California Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Charlton H. Bonham has delayed the start date for the California Dungeness crab fishery south of the Mendocino/Sonoma county line.
Bonham said the previous start date (Nov. 22) posed a significant risk of marine life entanglement, including migrating whales. The risk has led officials to further delay the commercial crab season until Dec. 15.
“People have been reporting that the crabs have been real good, as far as sports crab fishing goes,” said Dennis Smith of the port commission. “We’re just in a holding pattern now.”
An aerial survey conducted by CDFW within Greater Farallones and Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuaries on Nov. 18 showed whales throughout the survey area with concentrations foraging in depths between 180-300 feet off Point Reyes and Half Moon Bay. CDFW is working to schedule a follow up aerial reconnaissance flight to further evaluate whale presence in advance of Dec. 15 and will convene the California Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group the first week of December.
Longtime crab fisherman Joe Tomasello, who works out of the Santa Cruz Harbor, said he’s “beyond frustrated” with the delay.
“There’s all kinds of buoys and lines out there in the water for things like black cod traps that commonly have 10 traps on a string and weigh 4-to-500 pounds each,” he said. “How come we’re the only ones that get restricted? There’s commercial sport rock crabbers, prawn fisherman with their prawn traps out there right now. They finally killed us with no crabs for Thanksgiving.
“And not one single person has come up to me to ask, ‘how’s this affecting your business?’ I can’t do anything; I can’t go anywhere. We’re fighting against the marine protection act, which is a tough one. It’s so unfair. And we all have to have a crew. What are they supposed to do while we’re on hold; they all take off to find other work.”
Under the authority of Fish and Game Code the director may restrict take of commercial Dungeness crab harvest if there is a significant risk of marine life entanglement due to fishing gear.
For the latest information on the Dungeness crab season, visit www.wildlife.ca.gov/crab and 2019-2020 Dungeness Crab Fishery Best Practices Guide.