The Center of Biological Diversity, environmental advocacy group, supported that this decline was due to a legal settlement shortening of the California crab fishing season.
Specifically, the Centre filed a lawsuit in 2017 which then led to a settlement with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Association, and the terms included ending the California crab season on April 15 instead of June 30 as scheduled.
In the meantime, the settlement between the two parties includes the use of ropeless gear, whereas it creates a system of understanding risks to whales.
Although this decline is an improvement in the fight of protecting whales, in August, two humpbacks were found entangled in Dungeness crab gear; One whale did not survive.
As Catherine Kilduff, an attorney with the center commented
It’s great to see our settlement saving whales, but the discovery of two humpbacks entangled in California crab gear in a single month shows there’s still work to do.
The Centre doesn’t have additional information on whether that was lost gear or if the whales were entangled for months.
Moreover, the Centre’s statement highlights how risky lobster and crab pot gear is for whales. In many occasions, fishermen employ heavy vertical lines made fast to the trap and suspended by buoys from the surface, in their attempts to find and recover their traps economically.
The peak year was 2016, when the number of the whale entanglements reported in the West Coast was more than 70. In the meantime, entanglement is also a challenging situation on the eastern seaboard, as Canadian crab pot gear accounts for about one third of endangered North Atlantic right whale injury and mortality rates.
California is currently in the process of applying for federally-permitted endangered species take levels for its crab fisheries.