The commercial Dungeness crab season is delayed for the entire coast of California until at least December 16, officials from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife announced Monday. Two separate reasons are the cause for the delay. First, large numbers of migrating whales are still an issue from the Sonoma/Mendocino County line to the Mexico border, and in danger of getting caught in fishing equipment. Second, north of Mendocino, crabs showed low meat quality, also resulting in a delay of the commercial crab season for that region. The next date to reassess when the season can begin is set for December 7, the Mercury News reports.
The humpback whale population in the San Francisco Bay this year made Dungeness crab an impossibility for Thanksgiving dinner. The commercial fishing season was initially set to begin November 15, but the California Department of Fish and Wildlife delayed the season until at least December 1, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Sport crabbing season — aka the non-commercial season — began on November 5, and no crab traps are permitted to better protect whales (only hoop nets or snares are allowed).
The Chronicle adds the increase in whale population seems to be related to a marine heat wave, the same that drove up the anchovy population like crazy this summer. Drone-based surveying in recent weeks showed up to as many as 128 whales in the Bay at any given time, and even greater populations further south near Monterey. “Large aggregations of humpback whales continue to forage in California coastal waters, and allowing the use of crab traps would increase the risk of an entanglement,” California Department of Fish and Wildlife director Charlton Bonham told the paper.
This year’s news may come as little surprise to those who look forward to Dungeness each year, or to the fisher folk themselves. A similar dynamic played out last year when, just like this year, the only option was to catch it yourself or go without. No word yet on the one-year pilot program to buy live crab off the boat in Fisherman’s Wharf just yet.
As the season proceeds, Eater will update this article to reflect current requirements and restrictions.
Update: November 22, 2022, 9:17 a.m.: This story has been updated to reflect a second delay in the commercial crabbing season.