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Commercial crab season delayed again due to whales

The bad news is the opening of commercial Dungeness crab season is delayed again.

The good news is that it could open before Christmas with the new potential start date of Dec. 16.

While California’s deliciously sweet crab is off the Thanksgiving table, it could still be a part of your December holiday meal.

The commercial Dungeness crab fishery — stretching from the Mendocino Coast to the Mexico border — was originally scheduled to open Nov. 15 and was initially pushed back to Dec. 1 to lower the risk of whales becoming tangled in fishing gear, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The decision came after “aerial and vessel-based surveys done on Oct. 29 estimated there were 345 whales in the area,” according to the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

The crab season can be delayed when 20 whales are sighted, the paper said. The commercial season was delayed for a month last year to protect whales.

The department said in a statement released Tuesday that whales are still present in fishing grounds and the season is being held up another two weeks.

The California Coast Crab Association issued a statement saying the new delay will hurt working families.

“Since mid-November, fishermen have had to sit idle at the dock and accept delays in the opening of their crab season due to the new, highly restrictive and unfair RAMP rules. “And now the season is being postponed for a full month,” Ben Platt, president of the association, said. “We have basically been forced to accept these delays because according to the new rules, we risk losing the entire season if even one or two whales interact with crab lines. Meanwhile, Californians are being denied access to fresh, delicious holiday crab.”

There have been a record number of whale injuries and deaths in recent years as the whales, which normally are migrating south to Mexico by the start of the crabbing season, have stayed off the California coast longer.

They may be hanging around to feed on anchovies that have been pushed into shallower waters because of warming ocean temperatures, scientists have said.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife will reevaluate the risk of entanglement in mid-November to see whether the Dec. 16 opening date will stand or be further delayed.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.