SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The start of the commercial Dungeness crab season in California has been delayed further to protect humpback whales from becoming entangled in trap and buoy lines.
The state Department of Fish and Wildlife said Wednesday that commercial crabbing will be delayed until at least Dec. 30. The situation will be reassessed on or before Dec. 22.
It's the third delay for the start of the commercial season, which traditionally begins Nov. 15 for waters between the Mendocino county line and the border with Mexico.
The crab industry is one of California's major fisheries and the shellfish is especially popular around the holidays.
Geoff Shester with the nonprofit conservation group Oceana, commended officials for extending the delay.
"Elevated whale entanglement risk is becoming the new norm in the fall and spring months, so the crab fishing season with conventional vertical line gear is likely to get shorter and shorter," Shester said in a statement.
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.
The fish and game department said last month that there have been at least 15 confirmed entanglements of humpback whales by fishing gear off California this year, including three involving Dungeness crab gear.
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.