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Dungeness crab season opens with extra restrictions as industry sees economic consequences

The recreational catching of Dungeness crab is open for the season off the coast of California. But some local Fishing Zones must operate under extra restrictions to avoid potentially entangling whales and turtles.

From Lopez Point in Southern Monterey County to Point Conception in Santa Barbara County, Dungeness crab catching is allowed right now using crab traps, hoop nets and snares — potentially bringing in a boost to the Central Coast economy during the holidays.

Known as “take,” these types of crab-catching are allowed in the northern and southern Fishing Zones along California’s coast. But due to whale activity, take using crab traps is temporarily restricted in Fishing Zones two and three from the Sonoma/Mendocino county line to Lopez Point.

Mike Conroy is the executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Association. He said historically, the opening of Dungeness crab season would mean big business for fisheries across California.

But Conroy said these regulations temporarily banning traditional crab traps off Monterey Bay and the San Francisco Bay Area really limits fisheries.

He said coastal economies have taken a hit.

“The last two years that I’m aware of — that Thanksgiving market — which used to be a really important market, especially in the Bay Area, that’s gone,” Conroy said.

Conroy said the Dungeness crab season in California has brought in up to $70 million in years past. After the regulations went into effect last year, that profit dropped dramatically to just about $19 million.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife put these regulations into effect trap gear has the potential to entangle humpback whales and leatherback sea turtles. 22 humpback whales were caught in commercial Dungeness crab gear off California’s coast in the 2015-16 season.

“The new regulations will basically assure that that can never happen again," Conroy said. "To the extent that these regulations will ensure that the number of entanglements are dramatically reduced, I think the industry is behind that, 100 percent.”

But Conroy said the industry does have concerns with the nuances of the regulations. He said there is some hope for a regulatory middle ground that could keep entanglement low but offer more industry opportunity.

Conroy said some Dungeness crab fisheries are trying to make up for the economic loss by diversifying their catch, although it’s not easy for everyone.

“For those who are 100 percent reliant on Dungeness crab, it’s been a struggle,” Conroy said.

Conroy said early indications suggest the market for crab will be really good this year. He said crab could end up being sold at record high prices if they can start catching in time for the holiday markets.

Rachel Showalter first joined KCBX as an intern from Cal Poly in 2017. During her time in college, she anchored and reported for Mustang News at Cal Poly's radio station, KCPR. After graduating, she took her first job as a Producer at KSBY-TV. She returned to the KCBX team in October 2020, reporting daily for KCBX News until she moved to the Pacific Northwest in July of 2022. Rachel spends her off-days climbing rocks, cooking artichokes and fighting crosswords with friends.
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