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California’s commercial Dungeness crab season will end April 8 to protect whales

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The commercial Dungeness crab season in California will be curtailed to protect humpback whales from becoming entangled in trap and buoy lines, officials announced Thursday.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife said commercial crabbing will end April 8 for waters between the Mendocino-Sonoma county line and the border with Mexico.

The recreational take of Dungeness crab using traps in those areas will also be prohibited. Recreational crabbers will be able to use other methods, including hoop nets and crab snares.

North of the Mendocino-Sonoma county line to the Oregon border, commercial crabbing will only be permitted to a depth of 180 feet (55 meters), officials said.

“Aerial and vessel surveys conducted in mid-March show humpback whale numbers are increasing as they return to forage off the coast of California, elevating entanglement risk,” the department said in a statement.

The situation will be reassessed in mid-April.

The commercial crab industry is one of California’s major fisheries. For the past six years there have been delays and prohibitions for the crabbing season, which traditionally begins in mid-November, because of the potential risk to whales.

Humpback whales can get caught in the vertical ropes connected to heavy commercial traps, which they can drag around for months, leaving them injured, starved or so exhausted that they can drown.

Humpback whales migrate north annually from Mexico’s Baja California peninsula where they birth calves. In spring, summer and fall the humpbacks feed on anchovies, sardines and krill off the California coast before heading back south.

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