Wildlife protection laws affect Dungeness crab market

Rows+of+unused+crab+pots+and+buoys+sit+in+a+parking+lot+until+the+delay+on+the+Dungeness+crab+season+is+lifted.

Gracia Shao-Xue

Rows of unused crab pots and buoys sit in a parking lot until the delay on the Dungeness crab season is lifted.

A highly sought-after Thanksgiving dish may be unavailable to Bay Area consumers due to wildlife protection laws along the California coastline. 

The season typically starts in the middle of November, just in time for Thanksgiving where families enjoy Dungeness crab for the holiday.

While it is not uncommon for the Dungeness crab season to be delayed, this year has brought new obstacles to overcome before the fisherman can begin to capture the crabs.

“Due to whale migration, the Dungeness crab season has been delayed this year. The whales can get tangled in gear used for crabbing like buoys,” said Josh Larson, a local fisherman in Half Moon Bay. 

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) collects information and decides which areas are open to Dungeness crab fishing and which are not. In determining the areas that are open, officials hold the whales’ safety as a top priority.

“The CDFW does a flyover with a plane and determines where the whales are and how many there are. With this data, they choose which zones to close and put restrictions on for Dungeness crab fishing,” Larson said. 

According to the CDFW, the following risk assessment will occur on or before November 22, 2021. Officials will reassess the situation regarding the migrating whales and make a decision to either extend the delay or allow the season to begin.

Although the populations of whales, Dungeness crabs, and other wildlife may benefit from this delay on fishing, humans on the mainland will be negatively affected.

“If the [CDFW] delay Dungeness crab season, they can also shorten it as well. There have been years where we only get to fish a couple of months,” said Zach Hassan, a Half Moon Bay fisherman who owns Captain Jack, a fishing boat.  

The possibility of a shorter Dungeness crab season along with a later start date could have significant impacts on the local fishermen. Economic repercussions could be devastating for local fishermen.

“I’m on a lease deal where I owe $12,000 and 10% off the top. I could be in the hole $20,000-$30,000 if I don’t make that money back [during the Dungeness crab season],” Hassan said.  

Not only does the delayed Dungeness crab season affect fishers, but loyal customers that usually come to Half Moon Bay to buy Dungeness crab feel the impact as well. 

“I buy Dungeness crab every year because I love to eat it. I eat it with my family on Thanksgiving instead of turkey,” said Rishon Devi, a Daly City resident.

Due to the delay in the Dungeness crab season, Devi may need to resort to other alternatives. 

“It will be terrible. I don’t like turkey, and Dungeness crab may be unavailable, so I will resort to chicken this year,” Devi said. 

Local fishermen remain hopeful that the Dungeness crab season will come soon. For Hassan, being able to fish in the run-up to the holiday season would be a good start.

Hassan said, “The CDFW will decide when the season starts but hopefully, it will open on Dec. 1.”