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Dungeness crab season begins Dec. 29 for Sonoma County

This year’s Dungeness crab season was supposed to begin Nov. 15. The presence of endangered whales along the California coast prompted the delay.|

Commercial Dungeness crab season officially begins along the Sonoma County coast before the end of the year, officials announced Wednesday.

The season, which was delayed for more than a month, will officially begin Dec. 29, although crabbers may place their pots into the water beginning 8 a.m. Dec. 26, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“What’s good is we get to spend Christmas with our families and can still go to work,” said Dick Ogg, vice president of the Bodega Bay Fishermen’s Marketing Association.

The announcement covers Fishing Zone 3, which includes the area between Pigeon Point to the south and the border between Sonoma and Mendocino counties to the north.

Recreational Dungeness crab trap fishing opens at 9 a.m. Friday.

Ogg estimated about 30 to 50 Bodega Bay-area fishermen have been waiting for Wednesday’s announcement and are eager to hit the waters.

Commercial crabbing season normally would have started Nov. 15, but that didn’t happen this year thanks to efforts to prevent whales from becoming entangled in equipment.

The number of entanglements peaked in 2016 when 22 occurred involving commercial fishing gear, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service.

Most of the ensnared whales were endangered humpback whales, though two were blue whales and one was an orca, or killer whale.

The risk of entanglement had been declining recently, but area crab boat owner associations wanted to “promote a fair and orderly fishery” and requested more time to prepare, according to Fish and Wildlife.

The additional time will also allow any remaining whales the chance to leave fishing grounds, further reducing risk of entanglement.

“All fishing zones will soon be open and we should all be thankful to everyone who participated in this large collaborative effort that works to use the best available science to manage an important California fishery,” Fish and Wildlife Director Charlton Bonham said in Wednesday’s announcement.

Bodega Bay fisherman Tony Anello said he would’ve preferred opening season be pushed back a day, since they’ll need to begin preparing on Christmas Day in order to get their equipment ready for Dec. 26.

Regardless, having a target date is a huge weight off their shoulders.

“We do have a definite date we could go fishing and that was the big issue. From the 15th (of November) on, it was hit or miss. We didn’t have a definitive date,” Anello said.

The Mendocino County coast has been an alternate source for Dungeness crabbing in recent weeks, and that ensures the crustaceans will be available for Christmas, Ogg said.

But moving forward, “our production will afford our community the resources we’re able to provide,” he added.

Some Bodega Bay fishermen headed north during the Fishing Zone 3 delay, but it wasn’t always the best option for owners of small fishing boats.

The longer trip was not worth the minimal amounts of stock that could be transported. There also was no guarantee smaller fishing vessels could safely make the trip.

“It’s about both. Everybody has to consider their own business model,” Ogg said.

Fish and Wildlife also announced the lifting of a 40-fathom depth restriction in Fishing Zone 4 beginning Dec. 26. That zone includes portions of Santa Cruz and Monterey counties.

You can reach Staff Writer Colin Atagi at colin.atagi@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @colin_atagi.

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