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The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation is committed to working with the fishing community, fishery managers, scientists and other partners to advance gear innovation solutions to reduce the risk of entanglement for whales and other marine life while supporting thriving fisheries.

Entanglements typically occur when whales come into contact with buoy lines (or rope) that connect to fishing gear on the seafloor, such as traps. In 2018, large whale entanglements were confirmed in the waters of 11 states and one U.S. territory, with more than half occurring off California and Massachusetts. The most frequently entangled whale species were humpback, gray, minke and North Atlantic right whales. In 2018, over 80% of confirmed cases involved gear used in fishing, and half could be directly attributed to a specific fishery.

On the U.S. West Coast, there has been a significant increase in the number of confirmed whale entanglements since 2014, with the majority reported from California. During this period, the most commonly identified source of entanglements was Dungeness crab gear. The majority of entanglements were humpback whales, followed by gray whales. Blue whales, fin whales, killer whales, minke whales, sperm whales, and leatherback sea turtles have also been reported entangled in fishing gear. In 2021, reported entanglements on the West Coast continued to be higher than what occurred prior to 2014, although lower than the peak years from 2015 to 2018.

In response to the increase in reported entanglements, state and federal fishery managers, in consultation with industry leaders and other stakeholders, are collaboratively working to identify and implement solutions to reduce entanglement risk in the Dungeness crab fishery. As part of this effort, the Foundation is supporting a collaborative effort to trial fishing gear modifications and innovations designed to reduce entanglements while allowing for continued fishing activity. Key partners and advisors include the California Ocean Protection Council (OPC), California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA Fisheries), West Coast National Marine Sanctuaries, California Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group (Working Group), and fishermen collaborators. 

The project will trial multiple pop-up fishing systems, including on-demand and timed-release gear designed to minimize the amount of time that buoy lines are in the water column (listed below). These specific innovations were selected based upon recommendations from the Working Group, previous gear demonstrations conducted in September 2019, and fishermen interest.

Results from these trials will guide further gear development and testing, and ultimately inform decisions by state and federal fishery managers regarding continued fishing activity during periods of elevated marine life entanglement risk.

View the summary of the August 2022 gear innovation workshop

To find out more information or if you would like to participate in the trials, please contact Greg Wells at

The Foundation will collaborate with California commercial Dungeness crab fishermen who can provide expertise and feedback on the usability and reliability of the gear types under real-world fishing conditions. Fishermen will be provided experimental gear and receive training and support for participating in the trials. Commercial Dungeness crab fishermen who are interested in participating in the trials in 2023 and beyond are encouraged to contact Greg Wells at

Testing Activity Updates

Number of Vessels: 3
Number of Pop-Up Gear Deployments to Date: 421

Gear Testing Activity Updates:

Testing activities are currently underway and as of December 21, 2023, participating fishermen have completed 421 trials with three different pop-up fishing systems.

Preparing Guardian crab pot retrofit for deployment during fishermen training Photo: Greg Wells, 2022

“Innovative fishing gears are a promising option to reduce the frequency and severity of marine life entanglements. However, a thoughtful and systematic approach to testing is necessary to determine the suitability of specific gear innovations for the California Dungeness crab fishery. CDFW is proud to partner with the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation on this collaborative, science-based project.” – Craig Shuman, CDFW Marine Region

2022 Gear Innovation Workshop Photo: Greg Wells 2022

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