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. In close partnership with the Working Group, CDFW held an link opens in new windowon-the-water demonstration day in September 2019. 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:

  • Trap Gear Retrieval Program: The Department's new Trap Gear Retrieval Program (Section 132.7, Title 14, California Code of Regulations) was effective as of September 20, 2019 and will be in force for the 2019-20 commercial Dungeness crab season. Final regulatory language, and associated documents, can be found on CDFW's Proposed Regulations: Trap Gear Retrieval Program page.
  • Fixed Gear Marking: Updates can be found on CDFW's Proposed Regulations: Standard Commercial Trap Marking Program page.
  • Risk Assessment Mitigation Program (known as RAMP): CDFW is currently developing regulations to codify the RAMP developed by the Working Group. Additional information regarding the RAMP can be found on the Ocean Protection Council's link opens in new windowRAMP web page. When available, regulatory documents will be posted on CDFW's Proposed Regulations page.

Upcoming Meetings

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

Risk Assessments

Throughout the 2019-20 commercial Dungeness crab season, the Working Group will assess marine life entanglement risk and forward management recommendations to the Director.

The most recent Working Group risk assessment was conducted on October 15, 2019 in Santa Rosa. A follow-up discussion is scheduled for October 31, 2019 via teleconference.

For materials from prior Working Group risk assessments, see the "Past Meetings" section.