National Fisherman: In a settlement over whale entanglement, California’s Dungeness crab fishermen lose the spring season

A Dungeness crab on deck. Photo by Nick Rahaim.

The worst-case scenario has been averted — no multiyear closure of California’s Dungeness crab fishery. But fishermen will feel the sting for years to come after a settlement in a lawsuit over whale and sea turtle entanglements has closed spring crabbing in the state for the foreseeable future. And the fishermen are not happy.

“The settlement is going to be extremely painful and extremely difficult to deal with,” said Noah Oppenheim, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, noting that millions of dollars in product will be left in the water this year. “But this was the best possible deal that was acceptable to all parties.”

At issue is a 2017 lawsuit in federal court by the Oakland, Calif.-based Center for Biological Diversity that argued the state of California was in violation of the Endangered Species Act after a three-year spike in whale entanglements in Dungeness crab fishing gear from 2014 to 2017.

The lawsuit sought to force the state of California to obtain a federal incidental take permit for whales and turtles — a process that takes around three years to implement. It would have been possible for the fishery to remain closed during the intervening years, although the CBD says it never sought an indefinite closure through litigation.

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