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Whales off the California coast have been getting tangled up, injured and killed in commercial crab gear and other fishery traps for far too long.

That’s because the thousands of crab pots and other traps dropped in our ocean each year are connected to surface buoys by thick ropes. Migrating whales become entangled in those ropes, which cinch their flippers, mouths or tails as they drag these heavy traps, causing injuries or death by drowning.

It’s time for California’s fishing operations to stop using antiquated equipment and convert to innovative gear that doesn’t use these deadly ropes. State lawmakers should protect whales by requiring the use of ropeless traps.

Before 2014, confirmed whale entanglements averaged under 10 a year. But then 30 whale entanglements were reported to federal authorities in 2014, 62 in 2015, and 71 in 2016 — with commercial Dungeness crab gear being the main culprit when the gear could be identified.

From 2015 to 2020, more than 280 whales were reported entangled off the U.S. West Coast, mostly off California. And these are just the ones we know about. Scientists say we only see a small fraction of the whale entanglements that are occurring.

It’s not just whales suffering. Critically endangered Pacific leatherback sea turtles have also been found tangled up in California fishing gear.

Luckily, many companies have developed new ropeless traps, also known as “pop-up” or “on-demand” gear, that don’t leave a static line in the water for days on end. When fishers come to retrieve these innovative traps, they rise to the surface using either a lift bag or stowed rope and buoy, released by remote control.

These new traps are already being used commercially in an Australian fishery and being tested in Canada and off the East Coast, where ropes have been entangling critically endangered North Atlantic right whales. This ropeless gear is also being tested off California.

Manufacturers developed the gear with the input of fishers, and the underlying technology has been used for ocean activities for decades. Fishermen report that the gear works, especially in fisheries where it’s been more extensively tested.

In response to a lawsuit that we at the Center for Biological Diversity filed in 2017 after state officials and crabbers failed to take meaningful action to reduce entanglements, the state recently adopted a new regulatory system to reduce entanglements in commercial Dungeness crab gear.

But California’s new rules are complex and rely primarily on fishery closures. And they don’t do nearly enough to promote conversion to ropeless gear — the only way to truly eliminate the entanglement threat while allowing fishing to continue.

That’s why we had joined Social Compassion in Legislation in sponsoring Assembly Bill 534, which was introduced by Rob Bonta before he became state attorney general. The bill was pulled because he left the Assembly, but other legislators should take up the cause.

The bill would set a 2025 deadline for the conversion to ropeless gear. Such gear is more expensive right now. But that’s always true of new technological solutions — until they catch on, supply increases and prices come down.

And the transition to ropeless gear means the season won’t have to start late or end early because of whale presence. Ropeless fishing can also reduce lost gear costs by, for example, using GPS trackers.

This could help one of California’s largest fisheries become much more sustainable. In the process we could showcase a new technology that could help fisheries around the world where entanglements are a growing problem.

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Kristen Monsell is a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity’s Oceans Program.

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Gov. Gavin Newsom Says California’s COVID-19 Mask Mandate To End After June 15

SACRAMENTO (AP/CBS13) – Gov. Gavin Newsom said California plans to stop requiring people to wear masks in almost all circumstances on June 15, describing a world he said will look “a lot like the world we entered into before the pandemic.”

“We’re not wearing face coverings. We’re not restricted in any way, shape or form from doing the old things that we used to do, save for huge, large-scale indoor convention events like that, where we use our common sense,” Newsom said in an interview with Fox 11’s Elex Michaelson on Tuesday.

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California has required people to wear masks in public places since June 18. The guidance requires people to wear a mask when gathering indoors with people who are not vaccinated. Fully vaccinated people can meet indoors without wearing a mask. They can also not wear a mask outdoors, except when attending large gatherings such as sporting events, festivals and concerts.

The California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board is considering changing its workplace mask rules later this month. The proposed rules would not require employees to wear masks indoors if all workers are fully vaccinated and no one has coronavirus symptoms, the Sacramento Bee reported.

Last month, Newsom announced he would lift most of the state’s coronavirus restrictions on June 15 if the state’s coronavirus case numbers continued to improve. But at the time, Newsom and state public health officials said the state would not lift the mask mandate after June 15.

Tuesday, Newsom appeared to change his mind about that, telling Fox 11 that the state would only require masks “only for those massively large settings where people from around the world, not just around the country, are conversing.”

“We’ll make guidance recommendations, but no mandates and … no restrictions on businesses large and small,” Newsom said.

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Representatives from the California Department of Public Health did not return phone and email messages asking for more details on Newsom’s comments.

About half of the states require people to wear masks in public. In early March, Texas became the largest state to get rid of its mask mandate, a move Newsom called “absolutely reckless.”

At the time, Newsom told reporters “we’re never going to subscribe to the point of view of some other states.”

But that was more than two months ago. Since then, the rate of people testing positive for the coronavirus in California is just 1.1%, a fact Newsom cited in his interview with Fox 11, noting it is “the lowest in the nation.” More than 14.6 million people are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, and another 5.1 million are partially vaccinated.

Another change since March: Organizers seeking to remove Newsom from office gathered enough verified signatures to make it likely Newsom will face a recall election later this year. That recall effort was fueled mostly by anger over Newsom’s handling of the pandemic.

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Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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