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California Crab Season Ends Early To Help Whales And Turtles

Margie Shafer
March 27, 2019 - 10:53 am

(KCBS Radio) - In a surprise announcement, California's crab season will close down ahead of schedule this year as part of a settlement to protect other aquatic animals.

The last crab pots will be hauled up on April 15.

It stems from a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity against the state Department of Fish and Wildlife and fishermen that claimed California's Dungeness crab fishery has put whales and sea turtles in harm's way. The deal also calls for the season to end on April 1 in 2020 and 2021. 

The deadline is designed to accommodate the spring migration of these animals. They're more vulnerable to becoming entangled in fishing ropes and nets at this time, conservationists said. 

"We'll close the season early ... at the time of year when the most whales are showing up off our shore and are more likely to come into conflict with our fishing gear," said Fish and Wildlife Director Chuck Bonham. "We're going to merge with the national model to really ensure long term sustainability of our commercial fishing, and reduce whale entanglements. I'm pretty proud of that."

Related: Bay Area Crab Prices Skyrocket

Some crab fishermen, however, feel as though they're being made into scapegoats.

"The shipping industry has more contact with whales than we do. We're the sacrificial lambs on this and it's hurting us tremendously," said Tony Anello of Spud Point Crab Company in Bodega Bay. "We all have bills and mortgages and families to feed, and this devastates us. But we have to accept it. We have no choice."

Catherine Kilduff, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, is sympathetic to the fishermen's plight. But the animals are facing extinction, and she considers the terms of the settlement a good first step.

"They'll protect humpback whales that are migrating back up to California to feed for the summer time," she said. 

There were 19 whale entanglements in 2016, but the numbers are way down this season. There has been one whale entanglement since November. 

Written by Diana Shook