For the third time this year, commercial fishing season for dungeness crab has been delayed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, this time through at least the end of the year.

The decision to delay the beginning of commercial dungeness crab season was spurred due to the risk and dangers of humpback whales becoming entangled in fishing lines.

The season was initially delayed in October after Fish and Wildlife confirmed that three humpback whales were found to be entangled with commercial fishing equipment. An additional eight whales were entangled in unknown fishing gear — possibly commercial or recreational.

Whales regularly swim and hunt in areas along the Pacific coast that are included in the recreational crab fishing areas.

While the whales are still milling about, Fish and Wildlife says there are too many whales in the fisheries to allow for the crabbing season to kick off.

The state uses point system which is used alongside automatic triggers to determine whether or not to open the waters for crab fishing. Among those triggers are the concentration of observed whales and confirmed reports of entanglements. If too many whales are observed in the fishing zones or if several entanglements are reported, Fish and Wildlife will call for a delay.

California’s crab fishing regulations are enforced by zones.

Zone 1 and 2 encompasses Northern California’s coast. Zones 3 includes the San Francisco Bay and Zone 4 contains the Monterey Bay, and Zone 5 covers Morro Bay. Zone 6 covers the southernmost stretch of coastline, from Point Conception to the Mexico border.

Currently, the only way to catch a crab legally with a trap is to do so recreationally in Zones 1 or 2. That means there is no crab fishing of any kind along the Southern California Coast.

California’s 2021-2022 crab season was cut off early in March in the wake of two humpback whale entanglements. The season’s traditional closure is June 30. Humpback whales are federally protected under the Endangered Species Act.

About two-dozen whales each year are entangled by fishing equipment along California’s coast, according to statistics from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In total, at least 16 whales have been confirmed to have been entangled this year alone.

Catherine Kilduff, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, applauded the decision to delay the crabbing season again.

“This is absolutely the right decision. While the humpbacks are still out there, holding off on crabbing ensures they’ll be safe,” Kilduff said. “I appreciate that California state officials are keeping a close eye on endangered whales.

Kilduff added that delays like this will continue unless the commercial fishing industry adapts to methods that protect protected species like humpback whales.

“Until the fishing industry transitions to ropeless gear, it’s crucial not to put lines in the water that could entangle some of the ocean’s most majestic creatures,” she added.

Fish and Wildlife will reassess the risk of humpback entanglements on Dec. 22, but a decision won’t be expected until at least Dec. 30, meaning crab for Christmas is likely off the table.

KRON’S Amy Larsen contributed to this story.