Christmas will come early for Dungeness crab lovers.
Two days early.
The California Fish and Wildlife Department late Friday announced that the commercial Dungeness crab fishing season will open Dec. 23.
The official opening date of Nov. 15 had been delayed for weeks in the central California zone, from the Sonoma/Mendocino county line south, because of the possibility of migrating whales getting tangled in fishing lines. And it had been delayed in the northern zone, Humboldt and Mendocino counties, because of low-weight crabs.
“Recent survey data indicate most whales have started their annual migration out of the fishing grounds,” according to a statement by state officials, who conduct aerial surveys of the Pacific Ocean waters off the coast. “Whale entanglement risk still exists, but it is low. Thus, the opening declaration is accompanied by a notice to the fleet to use best fishing practices and avoid areas where whales may be congregating, including around the canyon edges of Monterey and between the Farallon Islands and Point Reyes.”
A season opener of Dec. 16 had been suggested but the Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group, which includes members of the commercial crab fleet, environmental organizations and other agencies, decided on a seven-day delay.
“This gives the fleet extra time to get ready and get their gear in the water, certainty in that we’re opening statewide, hopefully the chance to get part of the holiday market and an additional seven days for any remaining whales to migrate,” CDFW Director Charlton H. Bonham said in the announcement, noting that he was mindful of the financial losses suffered by fleets that have lost restaurant business during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Agency officials hailed this as a success for their Risk Assessment Mitigation Program, one that aims to “strike a balance between the needs of the commercial Dungeness crab fleet and protection of marine life.”
Since 2015, there have been delays in all but one commercial Dungeness season. A toxin, domoic acid, that could sicken anyone who eats the tainted crab destroyed Northern California’s 2015-2016 commercial season and created delays in other years. In 2018, recreational crabbers had to postpone their fishing, but the commercial season began without a hitch. In 2019, the fishing line danger to whales resulted in a crabbing delay of several weeks.
The toxin isn’t likely to create a problem during this 2020-21 season, Bonham had said in November. “This year, for the first time in a long time, it looks like we don’t have to worry about domoic acid, which is good news.”
Washington state hasn’t fared as well. High levels of the toxin found this week have closed the crab fishery in most of the state. However, in Oregon, where low-weight crabs delayed the season, an opening date of Dec. 16 has been set.