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) *not included in map
Map showing latitudinal boundaries of RAMP Fishing Zones 1-6 - click to enlarge in new window
(click to enlarge)

2022-23 Season

January 11, 2023

The Director of CDFW conducted a risk assessment on January 11, 2023 and is lifting the recreational trap restriction currently in place and issuing a Fleet Advisory for Fishing Zones 3-6 as of 8:01am on January 14, 2023. The Director is also continuing the Fleet Advisory currently in place for the commercial fishery in Fishing Zones 3-6, and will lift the commercial gear reduction currently in place for Fishing Zones 3-6 as of 8:01am on January 15, 2023.

December 22, 2022

The Director of CDFW conducted a risk assessment on December 22, 2022 and continued the recreational trap restriction currently in place for Fishing Zones 3-6. The commercial fishery in Fishing Zones 3-6 will open at 12:01am on December 31, 2022 under a Fleet Advisory and 50% gear reduction. Additional details regarding operations of the commercial fishery can be found in the Director’s Declaration below.

December 7, 2022

The Director of CDFW conducted a risk assessment on December 7, 2022 and continued the recreational trap restriction and commercial season delay currently in place for Fishing Zones 3-6. Management actions for these Fishing Zones will be evaluated during the next risk assessment, which is expected to occur on or before December 22, 2022.

November 21, 2022

The Director of CDFW conducted a risk assessment on November 21, 2022 and continued the recreational trap restriction in Fishing Zones 1 and 2 until 9am on November 28, 2022, and in Fishing Zones 3-6 until the next risk assessment. The Director also continued the delay of the commercial Dungeness crab season Fishing Zones 3-6 until at least December 16, 2022. Management actions for Fishing Zones 3-6 will be evaluated during the next risk assessment, which is expected to occur on or before December 7, 2022.

October 28, 2022

The Director of CDFW conducted a risk assessment on October 28, 2022 and delayed the opening of the commercial Dungeness crab season in Fishing Zones 3-6, and implemented a statewide recreational trap restriction in Fishing Zones 1-6.

2021-22 Season

April 13, 2022

The Director of CDFW conducted a risk assessment on April 13, 2022 and restricted the use of crab traps statewide for the remainder of the Dungeness crab season. The restriction applies to all crab traps regardless of target species.

April 6, 2022 

The Director of CDFW conducted a risk assessment on April 6, 2022 and closed the commercial Dungeness crab fishery in Fishing Zones 1 and 2, effective April 20, 2022 at 12:00pm (noon).  

March 25, 2022 

The Director of CDFW conducted a risk assessment on March 25, 2022 and closed the commercial Dungeness crab fishery in Fishing Zones 3, 4, 5 and 6 effective April 8, 2022 at 12:00pm (noon). A Fleet Advisory was continued for Zones 1 and 2. 

March 14, 2022 

The Director of CDFW conducted a risk assessment on March 14, 2022 and continued the statewide Fleet Advisory for the commercial Dungeness crab fishery.

February 17, 2022 

The Director of CDFW conducted a risk assessment on February 17, 2022 and implemented a statewide Fleet Advisory for the commercial Dungeness crab fishery.

January 18, 2022

The Director of CDFW conducted a risk assessment on January 18, 2022 and lifted the Fleet Advisories currently in place for the recreational and commercial fisheries.

December 15, 2021

The Director of CDFW conducted a risk assessment on December 15, 2021. In Fishing Zone 3, recreational use of traps can begin at 9 am on December 17, 2021 and the commercial fishery will open on December 29, 2021, with a pre-soak period to begin at 8:01 am on December 26, 2021. In Fishing Zone 4, the commercial fishery Depth Constraint will be lifted at 8:01 am on December 26, 2021.

December 9, 2021

The Director of CDFW conducted a risk assessment on December 9, 2021 and continued the delay of the commercial fishery as well as the recreational trap restriction in Fishing Zone 3. The recreational trap restriction in Fishing Zone 4 will be lifted on December 10, 2021 and the commercial fishery in Fishing Zone 4 will open on December 16, 2021 under a Depth Constraint and Fleet Advisory.

November 19, 2021

The Director of CDFW conducted a risk assessment on November 19, 2021 and continued the delay of the commercial fishery as well as the recreational trap restriction in Fishing Zones 3 and 4. A Fleet Advisory was also in place for Fishing Zones 1, 2, 5 and 6 for both fisheries.

November 1, 2021

The CDFW Director temporarily restricted the use of recreational crab traps in Fishing Zones 3 and 4 and delayed the opening of the commercial Dungeness crab fishery in Fishing Zones 3 and 4. 

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 17, 2021

The Director of CDFW conducted a risk assessment on March 17, 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 commercial Dungeness crab fishery. CDFW is currently 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 move through the ITP application process. 

On December 1, 2021 CDFW released an updated draft Conservation Plan for a 45-day public comment period. The updated draft Conservation Plan describes a comprehensive strategy to monitor, minimize and mitigate entanglement of federally protected humpback whales, blue whales and leatherback sea turtles in California commercial Dungeness crab fishing gear. 

CDFW held a virtual public meeting regarding the updated draft Conservation Plan at 10:00 am on Friday January 7, 2022 to provide an overview of the document and answer clarifying questions. The deadline for submitting written comments on the updated draft was 5:00 pm on Monday January 31, 2022. CDFW will review and evaluate public comments prior to submitting a revised draft Conservation Plan and ITP application to the National Marine Fisheries Service later this year.

Trap Gear Retrieval Program

Logbooks were submitted to CDFW in late October and are currently undergoing review. CDFW will issue payments to Retrieval Permittees and levy Department Trap Fees in late 2022. A summary of the 2022 program will be available in early 2023. Watch a short video explaining key aspects of the program.

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. Permit Application, Permit Amendment, and Logbook forms are available on CDFW's Commercial Fishing Licenses page.

CDFW has prepared several reference materials for program participants:

Annual summaries of lost or abandoned commercial Dungeness crab gear recovery efforts:

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. View the Working Group's charter (PDF). View a list of current Working Group Members, Advisors, and Agency support staff (PDF). More information about the Working Group is available on the Ocean Protection Council website.

View the Working Group's current workplan (PDF).

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.

 

News and Updates

January 11: Risk Assessment Update

The Director of CDFW conducted a risk assessment on January 11, 2023 and will lift the recreational trap restriction and commercial gear reduction currently in place for Fishing Zones 3-6 as of 8:01am on January 14, 2023 (recreational) and January 15, 2023 (commercial). All documents are available under the 2022-23 Season section of the Risk Assessment tab.

Frequently Asked Questions

Gear Reduction for the Commercial Dungeness Crab Fishery - Frequently Asked Questions (PDF)(opens in new tab)

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Summary of 2022-23 Northern California Hoop Net Regulations (PDF)(opens in new tab)