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/tabView more information 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 Habitat Conservation Plan as part of applying for an ITP under Section 10 of the federal Endangered Species Act. The Habitat 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 Habitat 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. To join the list, please complete the form on the right side of this page. You will be asked to submit your name and email address.

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

More Information about the Habitat Conservation Plan and ITP Process

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.

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. Information regarding upcoming workshops and opportunities will be posted to this page as they become available.

Status of Regulations

Pursuant to link opens in new windowSenate Bill 1309 (McGuire, 2018), CDFW is currently working to implement the following regulations:

Upcoming Meetings

Public meeting information will be posted here as meetings are scheduled.

Past Meetings

Public Meetings

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

Gear Innovation Discussions

  • Open House, Monterey March 1, 2019