Skip to main content
Arts & Entertainment

Dungeness crab season started late—and now it’s ending early

Dungeness crabs caught in San Francisco on Dec. 29, 2021, the first day of the season. | Mike Kuba

Well, that didn’t last long. The 2022-23 Dungeness crab season, which began at the late date of Dec. 31, has already been called off, effective April 15.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has assessed that the risk of humpback whale entanglements in commercial fishing lines is too great as the endangered cetaceans migrate south, so regulators have opted to close the crab fishery from the Sonoma-Mendocino county line south to the Mexican border. 

“Based on historical migration patterns, CDFW anticipates humpback whales will begin arriving in the coming weeks and has determined this action is needed to avoid entanglements during the same period that occurred last season,” the agency said in a March 30 release.

Any traps remaining after April 21 are subject to removal.

Last fall was the fourth year in a row that the season was delayed, after a 2017 lawsuit demonstrated that one-third of humpback entanglements are traceable to crabbing. The global humpback population, which had fallen as low as 5,000 in the 1960s, has rebounded to an estimated 135,000,

Beyond its late start and impending early end, this season was marked by accusations of price fixing by large-scale crab fishers. There have also been years when high levels of domoic acid in the crabs forced regulators to intervene, lest the Bay Area delicacy sicken any cioppino eaters.

In a typical year, crab season opens in mid-November and can last as late as July, although the preponderance of the total catch occurs during the first few months. However, with the Pacific Ocean generating a seemingly endless parade of atmospheric rivers and record cold temperatures—after three years of depriving California of moisture, it is difficult to say what “normal” may look like.

Astrid Kane can be reached at