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Whale Safe Fisheries

Humpback whale fluke
CDFW Photo by Paulo 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 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 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 which incorporates input from a wide range of stakeholders as we prepare the draft Habitat Conservation Plan and ultimately a complete 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

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 innovations aimed at reducing the frequency and severity of whale interactions with Dungeness crab fishing gear. Although "ropeless" (or "pop up") trap gear has been successfully used in other fisheries, these gear types do not yet meet the the criteria necessary for successful use in California. Other innovations, such as weak links and tension line cutters, are allowable and can be incorporated into existing gear configurations without additional authorization.

CDFW held an open house in May 2019 to promote dialogue between gear innovators, fishermen, and other interested parties regarding development and testing of fishing gear innovations. The Working Group has developed link opens in new windowguidelines (PDF) around ropeless gear which are largely applicable to other 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:

  • Trap Gear Retrieval Program: Updates can be found on the Department's Proposed Regulations: Trap Gear Retrieval 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 the Department's Proposed Regulations page.
  • Fixed Gear Marking: CDFW is currently scoping the proposed regulations, and anticipates releasing proposed regulations for public comment in summer 2019. When available, regulatory documents will be posted on the Department's Proposed Regulations page.

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

Marine Region (Region 7)
Regional Manager: Dr. Craig Shuman
Main Office: 20 Lower Ragsdale Drive, Suite 100, Monterey, CA  93940  |  (831) 649-2870
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