Breaking! Whale Entanglement Prevention Act Aims To End The Suffering & Death Of Endangered Marine Life Off The Coast Of California

This week, Assemblymember Rob Bonta, along with co-sponsors Social Compassion in Legislation and The Center for Biological Diversity introduced AB 534, The Whale Entanglement Prevention Act.

The measure was created because of changing ocean conditions and the fact that while California has long been a leader in wildlife conservation and sustainable fishing operations, the crabbing industry continues to use antiquated trapping gear that needlessly kills and injures critically endangered whales, sea turtles, and other marine species.

This critical bill will require the California Dungeness crabbing industry, and other trap fisheries, to use ropeless gear by November 1, 2025.

“California is a global leader in technology and innovation, yet we continue to trap crabs with archaic technology that puts our cherished marine wildlife at risk,” Assemblymember Bonta said in a statement sent to WAN. “As we move into the future, we can have both productive crabbing operations and oceans that are safe for whales and sea turtles. Whale-safe ropeless crabbing gear is already available; now we’re just implementing a deadline that crabbers can work with to make the necessary transition.”

Ropeless gear is the only way to eliminate the risk of entanglement while permitting crabbing to continue. The gear allows traps on the seafloor to be remotely called to the surface and removes the static vertical lines in the water column that entangle whales, sea turtles, and other marine animals.

Either a stowed rope and buoy, or a lift bag, sits on the seafloor attached to a trap which contains an acoustic modem and GPS that records its location. When fishers return to that location, a signal from a second paired modem on their boat using high-frequency sound waves triggers the buoy or lift bag to come to the surface. The traps can then be hauled up using traditional crabbing practices.

“It is heartbreaking that so many whale entanglements are happening off the coast of California,” stated Leah Sturgis, Vice President of Wildlife Protection, Social Compassion in Legislation. “It’s unbelievable that we have tolerated the loss of so much marine life, in particular the endangered pacific blue whale, of which there are only a few thousand left. So many lives could be saved with the use of this technology.”

Following several years of record-breaking numbers of entanglements reported off the coast of California, the Department of Fish and Wildlife recently enacted regulations to reduce the number of endangered blue whales, humpback whales, and leatherback sea turtles becoming entangled in commercial Dungeness crabbing gear.

However, the regulations have not eliminated entanglement risk and rely heavily on constant data collection and analysis to inform the implementation of potential risk-reduction measures. This may only trigger management actions after entanglements occur, and also rely on closures, including delaying the start of the season or ending it early, as the primary way to reduce risk which creates uncertainty for crabbers about where and when they will be able to crab.

“Whales and other marine life have long been exploited by humans, nearing the point of extinction,” said Judie Mancuso, CEO and Founder of Social Compassion in Legislation. “It’s time we prioritize and protect our most magnificent ocean creatures and put whale entanglements in the past.”

Various types of ropeless crabbing gear are currently being tested in Canada and on the East and West Coasts of the United States, and such gear is currently being used in a lobster fishery in Australia.

You can help all animals and our planet by choosing compassion on your plate and in your glass. #GoVeg

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