NRDC has weighed in on new regulations proposed by the state of California to protect endangered wildlife from becoming entangled in commercial Dungeness crab fishing gear.
Entanglement in fishing gear is the leading cause of death for marine mammals worldwide. In the United States, entanglement in commercial pot and trap gear used to fish for lobster and crab is seriously impacting large whales, perhaps our most iconic marine species. Off the west coast, the number of deaths of humpback whales caused by entanglements are now high enough for the population to slip into decline. Other endangered ocean giants are also at risk, including blue whales and the Pacific leatherback sea turtle. Off the east coast, entanglements are driving the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale to extinction.
The new regulations proposed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife are an important step towards protecting marine species from entanglement. Importantly, the regulations are the first in the country to specifically include provisions that enable “alternative gear” innovations, including “ropeless” gear (also known as “pop-up” gear), to be used for commercial fishing. Ropeless gear is the only reliable means to eliminate entanglement risk while keeping fishers on the water. By explicitly regulating ropeless gear—for example, by enabling its use within fishery closures—California is allowing for significant headway to be made in the research and development of this technology. Any progress on this front will help the technology move more rapidly towards wide-scale commercial use.