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Officials Working on Decreasing Whale Entanglement Off Oregon Coast

Published 08/18/21 at 5:52 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Officials Working on Decreasing Whale Entanglement Off Oregon Coast

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(Oregon Coast) – A new conservation plan from Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) is now in draft form as Oregon coast officials look to decrease the frequency of whale and sea turtle entanglement in crab fishing gear. (Above: Humpback whale near Astoria, courtesy Seaside Aquarium)

For the past six years, ODFW has been working closely with the crabbing industry and its partners to address the issue of marine life entanglements in crabbing gear as well as other fisheries. Now, the agency has developed a management strategy for the Dungeness crab industry off the Oregon coast, outlined in this conservation plan draft.

“Since 2014, there has been an elevated number of marine mammal entanglements in fixed fishing gear, which has emerged as a management challenge across the entire West Coast fishery,” ODFW said in the draft. “This increase has been driven largely by interactions between humpback whales, which are listed under the Endangered Species Act.”

The aim here is a co-existence between the commercial crab fishery and species recovering from endangered list status, especially populations of humpback whales, blue whales and leatherback sea turtles in ocean waters off Oregon's coast.

It would not apply to gray whales or other species not in the same endangered status.

The plan includes an incidental take permit (meaning a limit on accidental entanglement), utilizing a 20-year take authorization for Oregon's ocean and Columbia River commercial Dungeness crab fishery covering humpback whales, blue whales, and leatherback sea turtles.

“Key elements of the conservation program include an assessment of anticipated take levels for covered species over the permit term, biological goals and objectives that will be achieved through implementation of targeted conservation measures, a robust monitoring program that will provide the necessary information to assess progress towards objectives, and an adaptive management strategy for
refining the existing conservation measures throughout the permit term should monitoring indicate that changes are warranted,” ODFW said in the document.

The ways to achieve limiting this tragedy? ODFW is specifically looking at adjusting the number of pots allowed out there at any one time, depending on what species are in what area. Seasons could be altered or closed earlier, and known hot spots could become off limits for awhile, among other ideas.

ODFW is also looking to the public for commentary on the draft plan, which can be found here. This begins a 30-day public comment period ahead of an informational briefing to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission at their Sept. 17 meeting. Comments can by made by emailing [email protected]

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Humpback whale photos below courtesy Seaside Aquarium

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