Autumn. Colorful leaves, cooler temps and the first rains shift the minds and bellies of many locals to a certain gastronomic treat: Dungeness crab. But temporary new crabbing rules aimed at protecting endangered whales and sea turtles could delay the season.
Officially, the recreational crab season opener is a week from Saturday. The commercial season in Sonoma County starts nine days later.
However, comparatively large numbers of endangered humpback whales and leatherback sea turtles have been spied in coastal waters, and the chance they could get entangled by fishing gear, may change that opening date.
"The recreational fishery is now subject to a potential season delay, or in this case a trap prohibition until the risk is low," said Ryan Bartling, a senior environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. If enacted, hoop nets and loop nets or snare traps won't be included, just crab pots.
Bartling said three humpback whales have been ensnared by crab pots since 2016.
"The concern is, entanglement risk is more of an issue with the lines in the water from the pots to the surface, you're essentially eliminating that risk by not allowing the use of traps." Crabbers will also have to use a specific sized buoy and individual marker.
Bartling says when and if the temporary ban takes effect, officials will actively count humpbacks and leatherbacks, and reassess and possibly lift it around November 22nd. Which means, despite the hurdles, one Bay Area tradition will likely continue.
"There's still a chance for Dungeness at Thanksgiving, and there is, again, if you're a recreational angler, you can still use hoop nets, and a lot of people do use hoop nets," he said