For the third straight year, if you are looking for thanksgiving Dungeness crab for holidays, you may need to wait a little longer and pay more this year. The Dungeness crab, a local Bay Area delicacy, and iconic fishery is a once again in jeopardy of being delayed for fear of impacts to marine life from whales to leatherback turtles that get entangled by the crab traps used by fisherman --Commercial and Recreational.
Commercial Dungeness crab are caught with large metal traps that are placed on the sandy ocean floors where the crabs live. These traps are tied to buoys and rope that mark their location so fisherman are able to retrieve them later.
The impact of sea life becoming entangled from crabbing gear has become significant enough to warrant changes to current fishing regulations. The following summary report from NOAA and scientific data gathered from the agency has sparked the current regulations changes and those changes are having a direct impact on the fishery.
Read the summary documentation
Why is action being taken?
Based on marine data gathered by NOAA staff action is being taken based on the following observations per the memorandum.
"The large numbers of humpback whales distributed across Fishing Zones 3 and 4 is an indication that significant migration has yet to occur out of central California waters." (Directors Memorandum)
• Fishing Zone 3: 48 Humpback whales observed during CDFW aerial surveys, and 32 humpback whales observed during NOAA and Upwell surveys, in addition to Pacific leatherback sea turtles.
• Fishing Zone 4: weekly running average of 18.9 Humpback whales based on Monterey Bay Whale Watch data. Pacific leatherback sea turtles observed during NOAA and Upwell surveys.
Domoic Acid to Whale and Sea life Entanglement Impacts
For many years now, the Dungeness crab fishery has been impacted by updated regulations to natural conditions such as then increase domoic acid which impacts safety of the crabs. The combination of increased regulations and oceanic conditions have forced yearly changes to the fishery. Domoic acid testing is continually being monitored by department staff to ensure safety of the crabs in the ocean for public consumption. When domoic acid levels increase due to the ocean conditions DFGW takes action through public warnings to full zone closures.
Updated Regulations: Where Dungeness crab season is banned at the start of the season
If you are confused about the upcoming regulations -- you are not alone. There have been a lot of changes and keeping up with the new fishing laws can be a challenge in itself. Here is a condensed, and more easily digestible, summary of the seven page memorandum issued by director of DFWG, Carl H. Bonham.
The director of the California Fish and Wildlife, Charlton H. Bonham, issued a memorandum November 1,2021 providing direction on the opening of the Dungeness crab season that is slated to open on Saturday November 6, 2021.
- Zones 1, 2, 5, 6 will be allowed to use crab traps starting November 6, 2021
- Zones 3, 4 crab traps will NOT be allowed to used traps until the the restrictions are lifted by the director upon further assessment on November 22, 2021; however, the taking of crabs with hoop nets, crab snares and hand lines is still allowed in all zones.
Hoop nets are allowed to be fished in all zones and will NOT require a crab trap validation stamp.
In addition, to the fishing restrictions there are updated regulations that recreation and commercial fisherman will need to adhere if taking crabs by crab traps.
Anyone using a crab trap must purchase a $2.42 crab validation stamp that expires at the end of the year. A new crab validation stamp, I assume, will be required in the new year to continue fishing with traps. Moreover, new rules concerning buoys, and max trap numbers and frequency of trap monitoring have been updated; however hoop nets, snares and hand line methods will NOT require a crab trap validation stamp.