By DAVE HURLEY
SAN FRANCISCO– After the longest delay in the past several years of delays, the commercial Dungeness crab season will finally open in Zones 3-6 from the Sonoma/Mendocino County line to the U.S./Mexico border on January 18 with a 50% reduction in crab traps. The commercial season had opened in Zones 1 and 2 from the Oregon border to the Sonoma/Mendocino County line a few weeks earlier with a similar reduction in traps. The presence of endangered humpback whales in coastal waters during the months of November and December have led to the delay, and each progressive year, the delay has been longer and longer. According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) release, “This management decision is a balanced approach that achieves two outcomes. First, this trap reduction will help reduce entanglement risk for humpback whales by reducing the amount of gear and vertical lines in the water. Second, the decision gets the commercial fishery open statewide.”
The crab trap restriction has also been lifted as of January 12 for recreational anglers in Zones 3 and 4 from the Sonoma/Mendocino County Line. Coastal recreational party boats will be limited to whale watching, sand dab/Petrale sole/Dungeness crab combinations, or crab-only ventures until new rockfish regulations are adoption. Party boats from Santa Cruz to Fort Bragg continue to run crab-only trips, and even though traps are now legal, many are opting to continue to use hoops since customers are not subject to the Crab Validation Stamp with hoops. Out of Half Moon Bay, Captain Michael Cabanas of the New Captain Pete returned with 16 limits of Dungeness on Sunday, needing only 16 hoops to load up with 160 crab. He said, “There were several shorts, but there were as many as 15 keepers in the hoops. We will continue to run hoops throughout the season.” Out of Fort Bragg, Captain Tim Gillespie of All Aboard Adventures had a similar report with 10 limits of crab on Sunday, saying, “The crab are still very nice.” They will run crab-only trips as long as the crustaceans cooperate.