High numbers of migrating humpback whales spotted off the California coast in recent weeks have prompted state regulators to further postpone the commercial Dungeness crab season.
The delay is aimed to protect whales and leatherback sea turtles from becoming entangled in crab fishing gear, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
On Thursday, the agency announced that commercial Dungeness crab fishing season would be delayed until at least Dec. 21, when the next risk assessment is done.
Recent surveys have spotted "high concentrations" of humpback whales feeding on anchovy in fishing zone 4 off the coast of Monterey and Santa Cruz, according to the wildlife agency.
Last month, a Pacific leatherback sea turtle died after it was found Nov. 24 entangled in commercial crab fishing gear near the Farallon Islands. In addition, the department received a report Nov. 11 that a humpback whale was found entangled in commercial crab fishing gear.
Advocates for marine life welcomed the decision on Thursday.
"We know humpback whales are still in the area, so opening the Dungeness crab fishing season now would pose a huge threat to them," said Ben Grundy, oceans campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity. "Holding off until whale activity decreases is the right decision."
Restrictions on recreational crab traps will be lifted starting 8 a.m. on Dec. 16 along the Mendocino Coast north of Point Arena to the Oregon border, according to Thursday's announcement by the wildlife agency.
Recreational use of crab traps is temporarily prohibited in fishing zones 3 and 4, which stretches from the Sonoma/Mendocino county line to Lopez Point in Monterey County.
Recreational fishing by crabbers who use alternate methods, such as hoop nets and crab snares, is allowed during a temporary trap restriction, the wildlife agency said.
The next risk assessment will take place on Dec. 21, 2023.
More information is available at www.wildlife.ca.gov/crab.
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