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4 dead as severe storms hit Houston, TX; Election Protection Program eases access to voting information; surge in solar installations eases energy costs for Missourians; IN makes a splash for Safe Boating Week.

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The Supreme Court rules funding for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is okay, election deniers hold key voting oversight positions in swing states, and North Carolina lawmakers vote to ban people from wearing masks in public.

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Americans are buying up rubber ducks ahead of Memorial Day, Nebraskans who want residential solar have a new lifeline, seven community colleges are working to provide students with a better experience, and Mississippi's "Big Muddy" gets restoration help.

Partial shutdown of crab fishing season considered to protect whales

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Wednesday, March 27, 2024   

A working group convened by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife meets today to consider a partial closure of the commercial Dungeness crab fishing season, amid concerns too many whales and sea turtles are getting tangled up in the crab gear.

The ropes, which run from crab traps on the seafloor up to a buoy on the surface can become twisted around an animal's body. Last year, the gear entangled at least five humpback whales and killed a critically endangered Pacific leatherback sea turtle.

Andrea Treece, senior attorney for Earthjustice, a nonprofit public-interest environmental law organization, detailed the concerns.

"We leave too much gear on the water too late in the season, we wait until the risk is elevated," Treece pointed out. "Too often, it's too late to protect those whales. And so we need to really learn our lesson from the past."

The danger is greatest in the spring, summer and fall, when humpback whales migrate to California from Mexico and South America. The Department of Fish and Wildlife's risk assessment team is recommending the commercial fishery close April 5 south of the Sonoma/Mendocino County line, and would restrict the depth at which the crab traps can be set in northern California waters.

Treece thinks the department should announce a statewide closure as soon as possible, as it will take weeks to retrieve the gear and whales can quickly move north into areas with a lot of gear still in the water. She added a new type of ropeless gear is being tested, which could make a big difference once it is approved for use.

"We could be looking at a future where this fishery has to operate between January and March," Treece noted. "With a thoughtful transition to ropeless gear, we could be looking at a future where the fishery is operating for its full season."

A new public service announcement from the nonprofit Oceana includes video of a humpback whale filmed in 2022, entangled in ropes. The whale swam more than 1,000 miles, dragging the discarded crab gear for a year before it was discovered.


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