After plenty of delays due to whale migration off the coast, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife announced Thursday, January 11, that the commercial Dungeness crab fishing season around the Bay Area can start on Thursday, January 18. Specifically, that means fishing zones 3 through 6, which includes the Bay Area and moves southward to the California-Mexico border. There will, however, be a 50 percent reduction in allowable crab traps for commercial fishers to reduce entanglement risk for humpback whales.
The announcement also includes other updates to the Dungeness crab fishing season such as lifting restrictions for recreational fishers in zones 3 and 4, including the Bay Area. Previously, recreational crabbers were only allowed to fish by hand, hoop nets, and crab snares. Now, recreational fishers from the Mendocino-Sonoma county line down to Lopez Point in Monterey County will be allowed to use recreational crab traps, as well.
Another CDFW risk assessment is set to take place in mid-February 2024, ostensibly to decide whether to fully lift the trap restrictions. However, ocean conservation organization Oceana stated in a press release that they anticipate the gear reduction to stay in effect throughout the entire fishing season, citing wildlife entanglements that have been happening throughout the season already.
The season was originally set to begin in late October 2023, but in keeping with the last few previous crab seasons, commercial fishing was delayed yet again. Initially delays first began due to “soft-shell or poor quality crab conditions” before whale entanglement dangers later became the central reason the season starter was pushed off. The holiday season came and went without local Dungeness crab before eventually opening up on January 5 for the northern part of the state, particularly from the California-Oregon border to the Mendocino-Sonoma county line. Yet, despite that season opening up, actual crab fishing continued to be delayed due to a strike, as fishers sought to raise the per-pound pay rate before the rest of the coast opened up for commercial fishing. It’s unclear currently what will happen to that strike now that all zones will be open for crab fishing as of January 18.