Dungeness Crab Season Closed Early Due to Dubious Whale Crisis, COVID-19 Economic Impact on Coastal Communities Made Worse by Closure

For Immediate Release

April 22, 2020
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) today announced that effective May 15, 2020, the commercial Dungeness crab fishing season, which began in December, will be closed due to the perceived risk of commercial crab fishing gear harming migratory whales.

Ironically, as a result of ongoing cooperative measures between the California Dungeness crab fishing fleet and CDFW, interactions between Dungeness crab fishing gear and the two subgroups of Humpback whales, or Distinct Population Segments (DPS), which are “endangered” and “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) are extremely rare.

“The risk of crab fishing gear harming endangered whales is statistically insignificant because of low concentrations of whale, as well as the relatively small amounts of gear being deployed along the Central California coast,” said Ben Platt, president of the California Coast Crab Association (CCCA). “In fact, there have been no confirmed interactions between commercial Dungeness crab gear and any whales during the current crab season.”

In addition, the population of Humpback whales that migrate along the California coast every year is thriving, growing at a rate of eight-to-10 percent annually. And interactions between crab fishing gear and Blue Whales, the other subgroup of endangered species, are even more unlikely. Eastern North Pacific gray whales are the dominant whale population along the coast. After significant population recovery, the DPS was delisted from the Endangered Species Act in 1994 and remains at healthy levels to this day.

While whales are beginning to show up sporadically along our coast in the Central Management Area, they are not concentrated or even present where commercial Dungeness crab gear is being fished. Due to the beginning of the salmon troll season on May 1, and the start of other springtime fisheries including shrimp trawl, black cod, and prawn, there are fewer than 20 percent of the crab gear deployed in California waters now than at the start of the season. There is no evidence of significant risk to any ESA listed marine mammal with the relatively small amount of crab gear deployed.

“The imagined whale crisis pales in comparison to the reality of COVID-19 which makes our crab fishery more vital now than ever before to the suffering economies of California coastal communities,” Platt said. “The CDFW should not mandate any in-season management actions, especially season or area closures, unless there have been confirmed entanglements between commercial Dungeness crab gear with an ESA listed whale.”

The California Dungeness crab fishery has been a worldwide model of sustainability for many years and is whale-friendly. It provides a high-quality, clean and safely harvested source of food during the global COVID-19 health crisis. Commercial fishing is an essential industry and is part of the solution, providing valuable jobs and income during a time of massive unemployment. Earlier this month, a CCCA survey found that in one week, 94 crab boats were employing 350 fishermen, with combined landings of 145,000 lbs., with an ex-vessel value of $435,000 dollars.

In addition to the income generated for fishing families, hundreds of dockworkers, truck drivers, crab wholesalers, and their employees also received income from the crab fishery. The retail value in California stores the week of the survey was approximately $1 million.

“The COVID-19 sheltering order has hit our coastal communities especially hard with the complete loss of tourism. Commercial fishing is one of the few business activities allowed to continue,” Platt said. “With higher average prices paid at the dock for crab, the spring fishery has been an important part of the yearly income for many members of our crab fleet and for our live crab buyers. While many families are struggling to pay rent and afford to feed their children, this is no time for CDFW to be closing our crab fishery.”

About the California Coast Crab Association

The CCCA is a non-profit 501(c)(6) trade organization composed of individual crab boat owners, hired captains and Dungeness crab buyers. The CCCA board of directors is made up of nine member fishermen and crab buyers with a combined 240 years of experience in the crab fishery. Our diverse membership includes the smallest operators with skiffs up to the largest crab boats on the West Coast, and our member-buyers range from small live crab peddlers to the largest distributor of seafood on the West Coast.

The CCCA was formed in May of 2019 after the disastrous out-of-court settlement agreement in CBD vs Bonham, which created new, highly restrictive and unfair restrictions for the California Dungeness crab fishery. Dungeness crab is the most widely shared and economically important fishery to the West Coast commercial fishing industry, but the new ESA mandates created by CBD vs Bonham are threatening the viability of the fishery and the economic health of California’s coastal communities.

Since forming last spring, the CCCA has been working hard with the crab fishing industry and the CDFW to find workable solutions to meet the mutually shared goals of protecting our most valuable fishery and minimizing interaction between marine mammals and our fishing gear. In recent years, the commercial fishing fleet has been proactive in addressing important issues by initiating legislation through our Dungeness Crab Task Force to create new rules, including tiered trap limits, a Whale Entanglement Working Group, a statewide Lost Gear Retrieval Program and Safe Practice Guidelines for fishermen. More information at www.cacoastcrabassociation.org.

Media Contacts:
Ray Young
Razor Sharp PR
[email protected]

Ben Platt
President, CCCA
[email protected]