Whale Safe Fisheries

humpback whale fluke; Dungeness crabs; aerial photo of Farallon Islands; stack of Dungeness crab traps

Confirmed large whale entanglements off the U.S. West Coast have increased in recent years, including in California waters. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has taken several steps to better understand and mitigate the causes of whale entanglements.

Check this page regularly for updates on CDFW's Whale Safe Fisheries efforts, including recent risk assessments, Conservation Plan developments, and upcoming opportunities for public involvement. You may also sign up to receive important updates.

Risk Assessment and Mitigation Program (RAMP)

RAMP was piloted by the California Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group (Working Group) and codified in regulation on November 1, 2020. At least monthly, CDFW will assess marine life entanglement risk for Humpback Whales, Blue Whales, and Pacific Leatherback Sea Turtles based on the best available science related to Confirmed Entanglements and Marine Life Concentrations. Marine Life Concentrations are monitored primarily through aerial and vessel surveys, as well as satellite telemetry conducted by CDFW and other partners.

When risk is elevated, CDFW will consult with the Working Group to review other available information prior to implementing a management action. Actions may include:

  • Fleet advisories
  • Fishing depth constraints
  • Vertical line reductions
  • Fishery closures
  • Use of approved Alternative Gear (for closures after April 1)

All documents related to the risk assessments, including available data under consideration by CDFW and the Working Group, will be posted on this web page. View additional information about RAMP data sources (PDF). To submit additional information for consideration by CDFW or the Working Group, please email WhaleSafeFisheries@wildlife.ca.gov.

Risk assessments and management actions are applied at the Fishing Zone level. Latitudinal boundaries for each Fishing Zone are as follows and shown in the map below. All Fishing Zones extend to 200 nautical miles offshore.

  • Zone 1: From the California/Oregon border (42° N. latitude) to Cape Mendocino (40° 10' N. latitude)
  • Zone 2: From Cape Mendocino to the Sonoma/Mendocino county line (38° 46.125' N. latitude)
  • Zone 3: From Sonoma/Mendocino county line to Pigeon Point (37° 11' N. latitude)
  • Zone 4: From Pigeon Point to Lopez Point (36° N. latitude)
  • Zone 5: From Lopez Point to Point Conception (34° 27 N. latitude)
  • Zone 6: From Point Conception to the U.S./Mexico Border
  • Zone 7: “Pacific Leatherback Sea Turtle Foraging Area” from Point Arena (38° 57.5' N. latitude) to Point Pinos (36° 38.314' N. latitude)
Map showing latitudinal boundaries of each RAMP Fishing Zone - click to enlarge in new window
(click to enlarge)

2021-22 Season

CDFW will conduct an assessment of marine life entanglement risk on or around November 1, 2021. 

2020-21 Season

May 18, 2021

The Director announced a closure of commercial Dungeness crab fishery statewide beginning at noon on June 1, 2021. 

May 3, 2021

The Director of CDFW conducted a risk assessment on May 3, 2021 and is implementing a Depth Constraint, constraining the fishing to waters 30 fathoms and shallower for Fishing Zones 1 and 2. The Director is also maintaining a state-wide Fleet Advisory for all Zones (1-6).

April 14, 2021

The Director of CDFW conducted a risk assessment on April 14, 2021 and is maintaining a state-wide Fleet Advisory for all Fishing Zones (1-6).

April 1, 2021

The Director of CDFW conducted a risk assessment on April 1, 2021 and is maintaining a state-wide Fleet Advisory for all Fishing Zones (1-6).

March 18, 2021

The Director of CDFW conducted a risk assessment on March 18, 2021 and issued a state-wide Fleet Advisory for all Fishing Zones (1-6).

February 18, 2021

The Director of CDFW conducted a risk assessment on February 18, 2021, no Management Action was required under the RAMP regulations.

January 15, 2021

CDFW lifted the Fleet Advisory for all Fishing Zones.

December 11, 2020

CDFW further delayed the start of the commercial Dungeness crab fishery in the Central and Northern Management Areas (Fishing Zones 1-6) until December 23, 2020.

November 24, 2020

CDFW further delayed the start of the commercial Dungeness crab fishery in the Central Management Area (Fishing Zones 3-6).

November 4, 2020

CDFW delayed the scheduled November 15 start to the commercial Dungeness crab fishery in the Central Management Area (Fishing Zones 3-6).

2019-20 Season

Conservation Plan

CDFW is seeking an Incidental Take Permit (ITP) for listed marine species under Section 10 of the federal Endangered Species Act for the Dungeness crab fishery. CDFW is current developing a draft Conservation Plan as part of applying for an ITP. CDFW is committed to a transparent process that incorporates input from a wide range of stakeholders as we prepare the draft Conservation Plan and complete the ITP application.

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.

Trap Gear Retrieval Program

Update: Gear recovery operations are complete for the 2021 season. Retrieval Permittees must contact all Dungeness crab vessel permitholders regarding recovered gear with unpaid Retriever Trap Fees via certified letter by October 6. After October 21, gear with unpaid Retriever Trap Fees is retained by the Retrieval Permittee, who can request reimbursement from CDFW. Dungeness crab vessel permitholders must then pay the Department Trap Fee on a per-trap basis before their permit can be renewed or transferred.

The CDFW Trap Gear Retrieval Program allows for retrieval of lost or abandoned commercial Dungeness crab fishing gear following the close of the commercial 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. Under the program, Retrieval Permittees are entitled to compensation from the responsible Dungeness crab vessel permitholder in exchange for return of the retrieved gear. If compensation is not provided, CDFW issues a payment to the Retrieval Permittee and assesses the Department Trap Fee on a per-trap basis. Dungeness crab vessel permitholders must pay the Department Trap Fee prior to renewing or transferring their permit.

View a summary of the 2020 program (PDF).

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

Gear Innovation

CDFW supports development and testing of fishing gear modifications and innovations aimed at reducing the risk of entanglement with Dungeness crab fishing gear.

CDFW is partnering with the California Ocean Protection Council and National Marine Sanctuary Foundation to trial both innovative pop-up gear and "low tech" gear modifications during Spring 2021. View more details about the project. Interested participants should contact WhaleSafeFisheries@wildlife.ca.gov or gwells@marinesanctuary.org for more information.

CDFW has produced guidance (PDF) for individuals interested in testing fishing gear innovations. CDFW also recommends reviewing the Working Group ropeless gear guidelines (PDF); many of these guidelines are applicable to development and testing of other fishing gear modifications and innovations.

The Risk Assessment and Mitigation Program (Section 132.8(h), Title 14, California Code of Regulations (PDF)) establishes a process for certification of innovative gear types which reduce marine life entanglement risk as Alternative Gear. If you are interested in Alternative Gear Authorization please contact WhaleSafeFisheries@wildlife.ca.gov. Once certified, Alternative Gear can be used between April 1 and the close of the commercial Dungeness crab season in areas otherwise closed to commercial Dungeness crab fishing when authorized by the CDFW Director. 

Working Group

In partnership with the National Marine Fisheries Service and the California Ocean Protection Council, CDFW convened the California Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group (Working Group) in September 2015. The Working Group is comprised of commercial and recreational fishermen, environmental organization representatives, members of the disentanglement network, and state and federal agencies working to develop and implement innovative approaches to reducing marine life entanglement risk while supporting a thriving Dungeness crab fishery. More information about the Working Group, including their current Charter and membership list, is available on the Ocean Protection Council website.

View the current Best Practices Guide (PDF), developed in consultation with NOAA and the Working Group.

Materials related to Working Group risk assessment and management consideration meetings beginning with the 2019-20 fishing season can be found on the Risk Assessment & Mitigation tab. Other Working Group meetings are listed below.

Past 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.