Dungeness crab season for California’s far north counties will open Jan. 5
State officials announced Wednesday that California’s long-delayed Dungeness crab season will be allowed to open Jan. 5 in the state’s northernmost counties — Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte.
However, commercial crabbing from the Sonoma/Mendocino county line south to the Mexican border will remain on hold because of the risk of migrating humpback whales becoming tangled in fishing lines.
The decision was made in consultation with representatives of the fishing industry, environmental organizations and scientists. The next risk assessment will take place Jan. 11, officials said, and that will determine whether enough whales have moved out of harm’s way for other crabbing to begin.
Fleets in the far north will be allowed to drop their crab pots on Jan. 2.
“This is great for us and great for the consumer,” said Bob Partrite, chief operating officer of San Francisco’s Simco Restaurants on Pier 39. “A lot of customers come in and ask where the crabs are from. Whenever we can say local — California or even right outside the Golden Gate — that’s a big plus.”
His three crab-focused restaurants — Fog Harbor Fish House, The Crab House and The Pier Market — have been sourcing crabs from Oregon since the season started up there. The influx of California crab will put welcome downward pressure on prices, he said.
The conservation group Oceana, one of the state’s advisory groups, praised the decision but also warned of a very short season ahead.
“We support the decision by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife that balances the financial considerations of fishermen while ensuring that whales off California can safely complete their seasonal migrations,” said Ashley Blacow-Draeger, Oceana’s Pacific policy and communications manager.
Looking ahead, she added, “El Niño conditions are predicted this spring, which is likely to drive humpback whales closer to shore as they follow their prey — like anchovy — into shallower waters as the whales return to California from winter breeding grounds. This could force an early end to an already compressed fishing season.”
Traditionally, California’s commercial season begins Nov. 15 and the recreational season earlier than that.
Since 2015, there have been delays in all but one commercial Dungeness season in the Bay Area. A toxin, domoic acid, that could sicken anyone who eats the tainted crab, destroyed Northern California’s 2015-2016 commercial season and created delays in other years.
In 2018, the commercial season began without a hitch, although recreational crabbers had to postpone their fishing.
In 2019 and 2020, the fishing line danger to whales resulted in a crabbing delay of several weeks. The 2020 crabbing season was officially set to begin Dec. 23, but price negotiations between crab fleets and seafood processors delayed the start until early January 2021.
With delays to protect whales, the truncated 2021-22 season ran from Dec. 29 to April 8, and the 2022-23 season from Dec. 31 to this past April 15.