Commercial crab fishing remains delayed in the Half Moon Bay area due to a number of humpback whales spotted in the Gulf of the Farallones and Monterey Bay, with a reevaluation expected around mid-December.

“Available data indicate high numbers of whales remain in the fishing grounds,” Fish and Wildlife Director Charlton Bonham said in a press release Friday. “When data indicate whales have migrated out of the fishing grounds, CDFW stands ready to open the commercial season and lift the temporary recreational trap restriction in fishing zones three and four.”

Ryan Bartling, a spokesperson with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife Marine Region, said more than 20 humpback whales were spotted in zones three and four, which likely means there are even more in the area. Fishing zone three stretches from the Sonoma/Mendocino County line to Pigeon Point near Pescadero. Fishing zone four goes from Pigeon Point to Lopez Point in Monterey County. The state delays commercial fishing in certain sections along the coast to prevent fishing net entanglement for whales and sea turtles and boats hitting whales.

Fish and Wildlife gathers information and takes additional data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Cascadia Research Collective when making a decision. The study of entanglement risks for whales is called a risk assessment mitigation program and began in 2020. The process includes plane and ship-based spotting to determine if commercial fishing should occur, with input from fishermen, researchers and other organizations. The program serves as a trigger to help the Fish and Wildlife director decide if management action is needed.

Humpback whales migrate to winter breeding grounds off mainland Mexico and Central America usually begins around October and continues until November and into December. Most migrations usually end by early to mid-December, with the Farallones area and Monterey County a hot spot for turtles and whales. Bartling said the protected Pacific leatherback sea turtle is largely gone from the area, with only one spotted recently. Fish and Wildlife are currently trying to schedule flights in early December to look for whales and determine if commercial fishing can continue.

“We are at the tail end of the migration of humpback whales,” Bartling said.

Crab season has traditionally started in the middle of November, giving boats enough time to bring back crab for the holiday season. However, delays to protect humpback whales have grown increasingly common. California allowed commercial crab season to begin Dec. 23 last year following a monthlong delay to protect whales feeding off the California coast. Last season in the Bay Area was further delayed until Jan. 11 after the fleets in Half Moon Bay and the Bay Area negotiated with seafood companies on crab pricing for several weeks. Bartling said that changing the start date of commercial crab fishing makes sense to help fishermen gain certainty and avoid issues, but it would require a date change from the state legislature.

“The opening date would take a legislative change. It would take a bigger discussion than a single department,” Bartling said.

Fish and Wildlife are working with the Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group to reduce whale entanglements and reach a compromise. The group is composed of commercial and recreational fishermen, environmental organizations and state and federal agencies.

The commercial fishery is open in fishing zones five and six, from Lopez Point in Monterey County to Mexico. Commercial fishing north of the southern Mendocino County line to the Oregon state line will open Dec. 1. Recreational fishing for Dungeness crab is open statewide, with a temporary crab trap restriction recreation fishing for the areas from the northern Sonoma County line down to Lopez Point in Monterey County. The temporary trap restriction is due to the presence of humpback whales and the potential for entanglement in trap gear.

(650) 344-5200 ext. 102

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