Dear California Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Charles Bonham and Senior Environmental Scientist Ryan Bartling:
I write in support of stronger proposed regulations that will offer protections for endangered humpback whales, blue whales and Pacific leatherback sea turtles as they swim and feed off California’s coast. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s proposed modifications to the commercial Dungeness crab fishery would be a step forward to protect these endangered species, while allowing fishermen to continue providing a sustainable supply of crab to restaurants, seafood markets and other venues. However, the regulations should be strengthened to ensure sufficient protections and should allow the use of innovative pop-up fishing gear that catches crab in a way that is whale safe throughout the entire fishing season.
Whales and sea turtles are magnificent ocean creatures that play an important role in maintaining healthy oceans. These animals are nationally and internationally important, migrating across state and international boundaries during their vast migrations across our planet’s oceans. As you are aware, reports of whales and sea turtles becoming entangled in fishing gear — particularly in Dungeness crab fishing gear — off California have increased at alarming rates over the last several years. Whales and turtles should be safe when they feed off the California Coast.
I support new requirements to temporarily close specific areas of the ocean to crab fishing with conventional pots and lines when increased numbers of whales and sea turtles are present, and then to re-open those areas once these ocean animals have left the fishing grounds. The regulations should not allow voluntary measures to be a substitute for such closures or allow for alternative gears that do not eliminate vertical fishing lines that pose entanglement threats to ocean animals. I also support strengthening monitoring requirements towards the goal of 100% real-time monitoring of fishing effort locations to enable fine-scale management. Additionally, allowing and advancing the use of innovative pop-up fishing gear throughout the entire fishing season and in areas closed to conventional gear means fishermen can continue to catch Dungeness crab in a way that eliminates the entanglement threat to whales and sea turtles posed by the stagnant fishing lines. These changes to the fishery will allow California to continue to responsibly manage one the state’s most important fisheries while maintaining the legacy of good stewardship for ocean wildlife that call these beautiful waters home.
Thank you for addressing the increased incidences of whale and sea turtle entanglements by proposing these regulations. I respectfully ask that you strengthen the proposed regulations to ensure adequate protections for these globally important endangered species, take bold actions to advance the use of pop-up gear and adopt changes to the Dungeness crab fishery so California fishermen can continue to supply Dungeness crab in a way that is whale and sea turtle safe.