Crab for Thanksgiving? Don't Count on It. Commercial Season Delayed

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The commercial Dungeness crab season has been delayed over concerns about humpback whale entanglements. A new regulation, which took effect this month, allows state wildlife officials to close the fishery in regions where whales are spotted. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

If you were hoping for a locally caught Dungeness crab dinner this Thanksgiving, you may have to wait — or catch it yourself.

Late Wednesday, hours before some boats in the commercial fleet were set to head out to drop crab pots, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife announced a preliminary decision to delay the season a second time this year, till mid-December. Allowing boats to go out before then could endanger humpback whales now migrating through prime crabbing waters between Half Moon Bay and Point Reyes, the department ruled. The season had already been delayed a week.

Some port associations and commercial fleets, notably in Bodega Bay, San Francisco and Half Moon Bay, had requested the delay to avoid the chance of  entangling whales in fishing gear. The department's decision to postpone the season cited aerial and boat surveys this week that documented both whales in the fishing ground as well as concentrations of fish known to attract them. Surveys from the air in October showed "particularly high concentrations" of whales off the central  coast.

Fish and Wildlife Director Charlton Bonham requested feedback on the preliminary decision by late Friday afternoon.

The backdrop for the delay is a 2017 Center for Biological Diversity lawsuit against the state for insufficient regulation of commercial crabbing fleets. That year, more than 70 whales became entangled in fishing gear. The settlement, which was reached in March, allows for more regulations and a potential end to the entire season if endangered whales become entangled. That's a risk the fishing industry is eager to avoid.

Crab from Washington state should be available at local markets for Thanksgiving. The recreational crab season opened Nov. 2.