Whale Safe Fisheries

Humpback whale fluke
CDFW photo by P. Serpa

The number of confirmed large whale entanglements off the U.S. West Coast has increased in recent years. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has taken several steps to better understand the causes of, and mitigate, entanglements in California waters. In partnership with National Marine Fisheries Service and the California Ocean Protection Council, CDFW convened the California Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group (Working Group) in the fall of 2015.

Under CDFW's leadership the Working Group, which includes fishermen, environmental organizations, and agency staff, is committed to their dual goals of supporting a robust Dungeness crab fishery and reducing the number of whale entanglements. link opens in new window/tabLearn more about the Working Group's current activities.

A key outcome of CDFW's efforts was determining that a sustainable Dungeness crab fishery depends upon acquiring an Incidental Take Permit (ITP) for listed marine species. CDFW is currently developing a draft Conservation Plan as part of applying for an ITP under Section 10 of the federal Endangered Species Act. The Conservation Plan will address endangered species interactions in the Dungeness crab fishery. CDFW is committed to a transparent process that incorporates input from a wide range of stakeholders as we prepare the draft Conservation Plan and ultimately complete the ITP application.

Check this page regularly for updates on CDFW's Whale Safe Fishery efforts, including information regarding upcoming opportunities for public involvement. An online email service has been created to keep stakeholders and the public informed about the ITP process. Use the sign-up form on this page to subscribe.

For additional information, email WhaleSafeFisheries@wildlife.ca.gov.

Draft Conservation Plan and ITP Process

On May 15, 2020 CDFW submitted a draft Conservation Plan for California’s Commercial Dungeness Crab Fishery to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This draft Conservation Plan describes a comprehensive strategy to monitor, minimize and mitigate accidental entanglement of federally protected humpback whales, blue whales and Pacific leatherback sea turtles in California commercial Dungeness crab fishing gear. Submission of the draft Conservation Plan is an important step in the application process for an Incidental Take Permit under Section 10 of the federal Endangered Species Act.

Proposed Regulations: Risk Assessment and Mitigation Program (RAMP)

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife published the Notice of Proposed Action to add Section 132.8 to Title 14, California Code of Regulations on May 15, 2020 and were available for a 45-day public comment period through June 29, 2020. A public hearing was held on June 29, 2020 on the “Original Proposed Package”. On July 17, 2020, amendments were noticed to the public to allow for an additional 15-day comment period on the changes to the Original Proposed Package and a public hearing was held on August 3, 2020. The Original Proposed Package, supporting documents and amended regulations are available on the Department's regulations web page.

The regulations are currently under review by the Office of Administrative Law and are anticipated to be effective by November 1, 2020.

Trap Gear Retrieval Program

Update: 2020 retrieval operations are complete. CDFW will contact Dungeness crab vessel permitholders regarding owed Department Trap Fees in December 2020. Permit applications for the 2021 program will be posted in February 2021. 

The Department's new Trap Gear Retrieval Program will be effective upon closure of the 2019-20 commercial Dungeness crab season. Qualified entities (charitable organizations, sport or commercial fishing associations, local government agencies, and harbor districts) can apply for a Lost or Abandoned Commercial Dungeness Crab Trap Gear Retrieval Permit (PDF Form). Up to 10 Designated Retrievers and vessels can be listed on the permit, and retrieve lost or abandoned commercial Dungeness crab gear from two weeks after the close of the commercial season. All retrieval activities must be documented on a link opens in new windowTrap Gear Retrieval Logbook (PDF), which must be submitted to the Department each year.

All gear retrieved under this program becomes the property of the Retrieval Permittee, who is required to contact the Dungeness crab vessel permitholder and offer to return the gear in exchange for reasonable compensation. Noncompliance will result in the Department imposing per-trap fees which must be paid prior to renewing a Dungeness crab vessel permit.

Additional information about this program is available on the Department's regulations page or by contacting WhaleSafeFisheries@wildlife.ca.gov.

Fishing Gear Innovations

CDFW supports development and testing of fishing gear modifications and innovations aimed at reducing the risk of entanglement with Dungeness crab fishing gear. Prior to widespread adoption, or mandatory use, of any fishing gear modifications, additional testing and refinement must be conducted. CDFW encourages testing through incorporating modifications into legal fishing gear, which can be done in both recreational and commercial fisheries. Grip-sleeves, weak links, line cutters, and alternative rope materials could be tested in several fisheries, as their use is not prohibited by existing statute or regulation. New or “innovative” gears such as “ropeless gear” (commonly called “pop-up gear”) can only be tested under certain conditions.

CDFW has produced link opens in new windowguidance (PDF) for individuals interested in testing fishing gear innovations during the summer and fall of 2019. CDFW also recommends reviewing link opens in new windowguidelines (PDF) developed by the Working Group regarding ropeless gear; many of these guidelines are applicable to development and testing of other fishing gear modifications and innovations. CDFW held an open house in March 2019 to promote dialogue between gear innovators, fishermen, and other interested parties regarding development and testing of fishing gear innovations. In close partnership with the Working Group, CDFW held an link opens in new windowon-the-water demonstration day (PDF) in September 2019 (link opens in new windowmore photos available). Information regarding upcoming workshops and opportunities will be posted to this page as they become available.

Standardized Commercial Trap Marking for Trap Fisheries

Standardized marking is now in effect for commercial Spiny Lobster, Rock Crab, Tanner Crab, Spot Prawn, Coonstripe Shrimp, and Nearshore Finfish trap fisheries. If you participate in any one of these fisheries, you have until May 1, 2020 to bring your gear into compliance. Every trap buoy in an affected fishery must be marked with Identification Letters that identifies the fishery. For example, every buoy tied to your lobster trap must be marked with the letter “P.” Furthermore, at least one buoy tied to each trap must be marked with your personal identification Number; this is usually your L Number. If you fish your traps in strings, and you have buoys on both ends of each string, then at least one buoy on each end must be marked with your Identification Number.

The Identification Letters must be 3 inches tall, and the Identification Numbers must be at least 1.5 inches tall. Both must be written in lines at least 0.25 inch thick. Identification Letters must be marked multiple times on each buoy. For buoys that are under 4 inches in diameter, the Identification Letters must be marked on 2 opposing sides. For buoys that are bigger, the letters must be marked on 4 opposing sides (see below Figure). Identification numbers do not need to be marked multiple times on a buoy.

Two pictures showing two different angles of a bullet float with one side marked with “12345P” and the other three sides with “P.” The letters “P” are twice as tall as the number “12345.”
Example of a properly marked 11 in. X 4.5 in. bullet float with the Identification Letter marked on 4 sides. Note that the number “12345” is for demonstration purpose, and individuals should use their own Identification Numbers.

The affected fisheries and their specific Identification Letters and Identification Numbers are as follow:

Trap Fishery Identification Number Identification Letter
Spiny Lobster operator's commercial fishing license identification number P
Rock Crab operator’s commercial fishing license identification number X
Tanner Crab vessel's commercial boat registration number T
Spot Prawn operator’s commercial fishing license identification number S
Coonstripe Shrimp operator’s commercial fishing license identification number C
Nearshore Finfish operator's commercial fishing license identification number Z

For more information on why the program was adopted and reasons behind specific provisions, please visit our regulation website.

Legal Actions

In October 2017, the Center for Biological Diversity sued CDFW after a drastic increase in the number of whale entanglements off the West Coast. The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations later intervened on behalf of the Dungeness crab industry. A settlement agreement between CDFW, Center for Biological Diversity, and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations was announced on March 26, 2019.

The settlement outlines a comprehensive approach to the problem of whale entanglements. It expedites implementation of new state regulations, ensures stakeholder input from the Working Group and formalizes CDFW's commitment to pursue an ITP. The settlement also included an early closure for the 2018-19 Dungeness crab season and prescribes protective measures for future springtime fishing seasons, when the greatest number of whales are present off the California coast.

Upcoming Meetings

No upcoming meetings are scheduled at this time.

Past Meetings

2019-20 Risk Assessment Discussions and CDFW Determinations

For more recent documents, see the "Risk Assessments" section in the top right corner of this page.

Public Meetings

  • Risk Assessment Mitigation Program and Conservation Plan Webinar, March 19, 2020

  • Discussion of Recreational Crab Fishery Management Proposals to Reduce Whale and Sea Turtle Entanglement Risk
    • January 6, Sacramento
    • January 11, Sausalito
    • January 23, Eureka
  • Recreational Dungeness Crab Fishery Webinar, December 3, 2019
    • The Department held a webinar regarding proposed new regulations to minimize recreational Dungeness crab fishery impacts on protected whales and sea turtles.

  • Dungeness Crab Task Force Administrative Team Port Tour, various ports, October 7-8, 2018
  • Dungeness Crab Task Force Meeting, Ukiah June 5-6, 2018
  • Dungeness Crab Task Force Conference Call October 16-18, 2017
  • California Whale Entanglement Discussion, Oakland August 20, 2015

Working Group Meetings

For a full list of Working Group meeting agendas, summaries, and links to presentations please visit the link opens in new windowWorking Group Meeting Summary page.

Risk Assessment and Evaluation Team Discussions (Prior Seasons)

Gear Innovation Discussions

Risk Assessments

Throughout the 2020-21 commercial Dungeness crab season, CDFW will assess marine life entanglement risk pursuant to the Risk Assessment and Mitigation Program (Section 132.8, Title 14, CCR). When risk is elevated, CDFW will consult with the Working Group regarding appropriate management actions.

Documents related to the CDFW risk assessments and Working Group recommendations will be posted here.

For materials from prior risk assessments, see the "Past Meetings" section.