December 31 marked the official opening of Dungeness season for the Bay Area, but as of Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend, the various remaining Dungeness crab restrictions protecting migrating humpback whales will be lifted, too. On January 15 at 8:01 a.m., the 50 percent commercial trapping restriction will be lifted, meaning Dungeness supplies could return to something like normal at seafood purveyors. As of 8:01 a.m. on January 14, recreational crabbing using crab traps may resume, as the first two weeks of the season are reserved for hoop nets and crab snares only.
It’s good news for commercial fisheries and Dungeness crab enthusiasts, who’ve weathered the ups and downs of the season, both literally and figuratively. The beginning of the season came at long last on December 31 after numerous delays. The commercial fishing season was initially set to begin November 15 but was continually delayed due to the migration of the humpback whales. Sport crabbing season — as in the non-commercial season — began on November 5, but with the restriction on using only hoop nets or snares. This left many seafood lovers without a Dungeness crab on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
By the time the commercial fishing season opened at 50 percent trap allowance on December 31, the historic whole storm parade kept crabbers out of the water. But the Marin Independent Journal reports the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has given the go-ahead for recreational crabbing and full trap allowances this weekend now that most whales have migrated south. That all said, CDFW Director Charlton H. Bonham reminded crabbers to avoid areas where whales have been spotted.
The San Francisco Chronicle writes that 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 crab season delays 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: January 13, 2023 10:35 a.m.: This story has been updated to reflect that two major restrictions are lifted for both commercial fisheries and recreational crabbers.