Dungeness scarce as fishing mainly on hold for whale migration
Written by Marc Albert
Dungeness crabs photo credit: (Credit: courtesy, California Department of Fish and Wildlife
If turkey's not your thing, you'd better find an alternative quick. Dungeness crab right now is rarer than a hen's tooth.
Dungeness is synonymous with Thanksgiving in many Bay Area households. But rather than debates over cooking methods, portions or sides, in recent years, talk has been more basic--will there, or won't there be crab.
This year is likely a no.
Conflicts between migrating whales and crab trap lines and buoys prompted a lawsuit, resulting in crab trap bans when whales are migrating. Snare traps and loop nets remain legal.
This year, like last, the migration is a little behind schedule, keeping restrictions in place. Ryan Bartling, an environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the regulations are working.
"Our highest year was back in 2016, there were 19 humpback whales that were confirmed to be entangled in California dungeness crab gear."
In 2019, the number dropped to three. Last year, there was one.
In a vast ocean, it's likely not all entanglements are noticed, or reported. And not every attempt to free a whale or other creature is successful.
"They launch a response when they can, but often a sighting occurs, they got good photos, they got video or maybe drone footage, but by the time they get the response crew out there, the animal has left the area or they are unable to locate it."
Catherine Kilduff, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, concedes the rules are helping, but not enough. A study estimates fewer than one in ten entanglements are reported.
She said new-style, emerging traps, though pricier than run-of-the-mill crab pots, could eliminate conflicts.
"There's technology that doesn't require a rope to retrieve the traps that are on the bottom of the ocean. There's a balloon that inflates and then the trap rises to the surface."
The commercial season from Mendocino County north is set to open December 1st. Officials reassess Sonoma County and zones further south around mid-December.
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