For three straight years records have been set in a sad statistic — the number of whales entangled in fishing lines off the West Coast. Last year, the new record was 71 whales.
Now an environmental non-profit intends wants to take legal steps to change the pattern. The Center for Biological Diversity on Friday filed a letter with the California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife claiming crab traps are killing endangered humpback and blue whales and leatherback sea turtles. The Tuscon-based group says it plans to file a lawsuit against the agency, which is responsible for oversight and permitting of the commercial crab industry, arguing that the Dungeness crab business is responsible for tangling most whales and sea turtles and the state isn’t doing its part in preventing those deaths.
“We really want there to be some regulations that will protect the whales,” said Catherine Kilduff, a senior attorney for the center.
Some changes the group wants include: New rules that would prohibit crab boats from letting excess line float on the surface (where whales sometimes are entangled), and requiring boats to better maintain their working gear so lines don’t break free and entangle whales.
“None of those ideas have been required,” Kilduff said. “It’s really hard to get voluntary actions.”
News of the announcement comes days after rescuers worked to save a badly entangled humpback whale first spotted off the coast of San Pedro. The 25-foot juvenile whale was later found near San Clemente where it was mostly cut free from the line, though some trailed from its mouth.
Whales and turtles often get caught up in crab traps because they feed in biologically rich areas, Kilduff said.
“There’s a large overlap between where the fishermen are and where the whales and turtles come to feed,” Kilduff said.
The 71 whales entangled in crab trapping lines last year was more than seven times higher than the typical average of eight whales caught each year, and the highest since the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration began keeping records of fisheries in 1982. Of the 71 whales entangled off the West Coast, 66 were in California and 13 were in Southern California.
In 2015, 62 whales were reported tangled in fishing line; in 2014, 30 whales.
Sometimes rescuers are able to free the whales or the animals are able to get loose on their own. But often times they succumb to disease, starvation, dehydration, infections or drowning.
The Department of…