Commercial Crab Fishermen Sought to Test Innovative Fishing Gear

Reports show that the majority of whale entanglements are caused by fishing gear


Silver Spring, Md. – February 2, 2021 – The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, California Ocean Protection Council (OPC), and California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) are collaborating to test fishing gear innovations in the California Dungeness crab fishery with local fishermen in real world simulations, in order to reduce the risk of entangling protected whales and sea turtles in the future. 

Greg Wells, Gear Innovations Project Manager for the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, said, “This cooperative research project presents an opportunity for fishermen in California to experiment with multiple pop-up fishing systems as well as weak link rope systems to provide important feedback and ideas on what can work in the Dungeness crab fishery. These trials will be invaluable to scaling up testing and informing decision making in the future. We look forward to working with fishermen and our partners to help conserve iconic marine species.” 

“Reduction of whale entanglement in California coastal waters is a top priority for the state,”  said OPC deputy director, Jenn Eckerle. “This critical study will provide us with information on which innovative gear types, if any, will result in better protection of endangered whales and sea turtles.”

Whales can become entangled in buoy lines used by fishermen to connect crab traps on the seafloor with surface buoys. The project will test new gear innovations designed to reduce or eliminate the time a buoy line is in the water column or the breaking strength of buoy lines. The testing program will evaluate acoustic and timed-release pop-up systems and a weak-sleeved rope design. These specific innovations were selected based upon recommendations from the California Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group (Working Group), previous gear demonstrations in September 2019, and the availability of manufactured prototypes and budget. Scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA Fisheries) and the Working Group are also advising on the project.

The Foundation seeks to recruit up to 15 active California commercial Dungeness crab fishermen during the 2020-2021 fishing season who can provide expertise and feedback on the usability and reliability of the gear types under real-world fishing conditions. The project has established plans for at-sea data collection and reporting, which will guide the testing. Fishermen will receive a stipend to support their participation in the project. Those interested in more information and/or participating in the trials are encouraged to contact Greg Wells at The Foundation is recruiting for the first round of testing now but will consider additional participants on an ongoing basis. 

According to NOAA Fisheries’ 2019 West Coast Whale Entanglement Summary, there has been a large increase in the number of confirmed whale entanglements reported along the U.S. West Coast since 2013, with the majority reported from California. While about 50 percent of entanglement reports cannot be attributed to a specific source, Dungeness crab fishing gear was the most common source identified during the report period. Gear innovations like those tested in this project represent a potential method for reducing marine life entanglement risk while allowing for continued fishing activity.

The project is committed to working with the fishing community, fisheries managers, scientists and other partners to advance gear innovation solutions to reduce the risk of entanglements with Dungeness crab fishing gear.

For more information, visit the project webpage.



National Marine Sanctuary Foundation: Chip Weiskotten, 518-669-3936,

California Natural Resources Agency: Lisa Lien-Mager, 




The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, established in 2000, is the official non-profit partner of the National Marine Sanctuary System. The Foundation directly supports America’s national marine sanctuaries through our mission to protect species, conserve ecosystems and preserve America’s maritime heritage. We accomplish our mission through community stewardship and engagement programs, on-the-water conservation projects, public education and outreach programs, and scientific research and exploration. The Foundation fosters innovative projects that are solution-oriented, scalable and transferable, and develop strategic partnerships that promote the conservation and recovery of species and their habitats. Learn more at