West Coast
From first noticing that this humpback whale had become entangled in a crab pot line, it took rescuers four days to free it. The line was cinched so tight the whale was at risk of losing its right pectoral fin. Photo by Peggy Stap/Marine Mammal Center

CA - Crab Command and Control

A California team uses science to predict the risk of whale entanglements and shut down the Dungeness crab industry when necessary in “near real time.”

As the warm water Blob transformed the ecosystem in the northeast Pacific, the number of whales tangled in fishing lines along the US west coast soared from a baseline of 10 per year to 30 in 2014 and 71 in 2016. A good percentage were entangled in gear owned by California-based Dungeness crab fishers. Frustrated by the growing number of casualties, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit against Charlton Bonham, director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). The 2017 suit pushed for clear, objective, and science-based triggers to shut down the crab fishery when whales are at risk.

In response, the California Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group, a surprisingly powerful consortium of fishermen, conservation groups (including the Center for Biological Diversity prior to the lawsuit), scientists, and staff from the CDFW created their risk assessment and mitigation program. The program helps the working group identify and respond to swiftly changing ecological conditions.

“Whales getting entangled in fishing gear is a huge crisis,” says John Mellor, a commercial fisherman and a member of the working group since its inception. “It has to be dealt with, and dealt with in real time.”

Read the full story here.