Commercial crab season has been delayed again, and is set to begin December 1 north of Sonoma County

An abundance of endangered whales still feeding off the coast of California is causing delays in commercial fishing off the beaches of Monterey Bay, San Francisco and Bodega, at least until December 15.

The delay will help ensure that marine animals do not become entangled, according to state Fish and Wildlife Director Chuck Bonham.

The season will open on December 1 north of Sonoma County, allowing the North Coast Dungeness crab harvest there to go ahead on time, furnishing fresh crabs for winter holiday events and a chance for some commercial crabs to get some activity even if they normally fish in areas that remain closed .

It’s a bitter pill for those who own smaller fishing boats and those whose trip north won’t pay off. They’ve already missed the lucrative Thanksgiving market due to the initial delay to the usual November 15 trading start for the Middle Coast.

Tony Anilo, a veteran fisherman at Bodega Bay, who said he knows of three new young additions to the fleet “have no way of doing that now”:

Anilo said his son, who owns a large ship, plans to head north in time, when, according to state rules, the season never opens until at least December 1, or until quality tests show the crustaceans are mature enough to withstand enough meat.

Tony Anilo’s boat is too small to go in, though he has a successful family restaurant in Bodega Bay and a modest firefighter’s pension to count on, though he admitted, “Small boats go down, and that makes my boat worthless.”

The usual rhythms of California’s famous lobster fishery, valued for its high profits and cultural traditions, have been skewed for several years, hampered by toxic algal blooms and uplifts in whale tangles off the entire West Coast.

The number of entanglements peaked in 2016, when 22 cases involving commercial fishing gear occurred, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service.

That year, elevated levels of domoic acid in crabs during a marine heat wave and a bloom of blue-green algae delayed the start of the season 4½ months at the same time that the whales were feeding closer to shore than usual, increasing the risk of interactions with them. Dense crab equipment at an unusual time.

Most of the trapped whales were endangered humpback whales, although two were blue and one was a killer whale.

The Center for Biological Diversity then sued the California Department of Fish and Wildlife for violating the Endangered Species Act through inadequate regulation of the commercial crab fishing sector.

The resulting regulation allows Bonham to design season openings, closures and boundaries based on the presence of the endangered humpback and blue whales, as well as the endangered Pacific sea turtles.

It also requires movement toward ropeless gear that would eliminate the need for thick lines running between the crab traps on the ocean floor and surface-floating buoys that locate them.

This is the third year in a row that the start of the commercial season has been delayed under the new protocols. Bonham’s order, issued late Friday, said whales had cleared hunting grounds north of Sonoma County, but remained heavily concentrated between Point Arena and Lopez Point, south of Monterey.

Restrictions on recreational crabs will remain in place in those areas until at least mid-December, which means only nets and traps are allowed—no square traps.

Kristen Munsell, director of litigation for ocean programs at the nonprofit Center for Biodiversity, praised Bonham’s move.

“This will help protect endangered whales and sea turtles from painful and deadly entanglements in fishing gear,” Munsell said. “It’s a crucial step, but ultimately state officials will have to do more to get the crab industry to adopt ropeless equipment that doesn’t kill some of the most beloved and endangered marine animals.”

Industry representatives remain troubled by the amount of research and development that still needs to be done on cordless equipment to make it a viable alternative.

Meanwhile, Dick Oge, vice president of marketing for the Bodega by Fishermen’s Association, said, “We have to find a way for the November 15 date to happen, for us to hunt with these animals.”

He said continuing to miss the Thanksgiving market could lose him forever.

He noted that the “fair start” provisions meant that anyone heading north and spreading pots in crabs areas north of the Sonoma County line would have to wait 30 days before they could attempt to catch crabs in the south, giving those waiting an advantage among commercial crabs once the flag had fallen. .

But depending on how long the whales have been in the area and commercial crab hunting is still prohibited, they may also be losing out at the Christmas and New Year’s markets, when crack crabs and other crab species are high on the list.

Meanwhile, warehousing workers don’t know when they will work or get paid.

“It’s tough for everyone,” said Og. “There is absolutely no doubt that this is unsustainable, and it is not just about hunters. Department, hunters, healers. Everyone is on the edge. Nobody knows, and it is scary to think of the possible repercussions.”

You can contact writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or [email protected] On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

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