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A humpback whale entangled in fishing gear surfaces for air off Northern California.

 

COOS BAY – The Oregon Dungeness Crab Commissioners voted unanimously last month to fund a multi-year study to prevent whale entanglements off the Oregon Coast. OCDD Executive Director Hugh Link said the study is expected to kick off soon as the need to gather information is needed.

“This shows, once again, how seriously our fishermen take the issue of whale entanglements,” Link said in an ODCC press release. “This is a project that will help lead us to the next important steps in the process.”

The board approved funding $44,820 to support the project in its first year. It also approved writing a letter of support for the study seeking additional funding from federal grants to sustain the three year study. The overall study is projected to cost about $300,000, said Link.

The U.S. Coast Guard, Oregon Sea Grant, ODFW and Oregon State University Marine Mammal Institute are partnering for the study to reduce whale entanglements by gathering data on whale distribution and populations.

According to a 2017 West Coast Entanglement Summary by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, off the coasts of Oregon, Washington, California and sections of Mexico a total of 31 whales were confirmed entangled.

The sources of entanglement resulted from specific fishing gear used primarily by commercial fishermen to trap Dungeness crabs. The Oregon Whale Entanglement Working Group, which formed in 2017 by Oregon Sea Grant, aimed to develop ways for fishermen to participate in helping reduce the risk of further entanglements.

The group released a 2017-2018 directive for minimizing these entanglements by following a set of practices which calls on reducing the amount of gear in the water during the spring and summer months.

“It is our belief that this project will help fill in critical gaps in our working knowledge of whales off Oregon,” Link said.

According to a project proposal by Dr. Leigh Torres, an ecologist with OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute, the study will collect data through a bimonthly surveys from the U.S. Coast Guard to spot whales in the area. It is also going to be collecting information on sightings from citizen scientist potentially through a mobile app. The data collected in the study will go toward mapping our predictive whale occurrences.

The results will help ultimately identify areas and times of high and low whale entanglement risk, said Link in the press release. Under the Oregon Department of Agriculture, the ODCC is an industry-funded agency that represents 423 limited-entry crab permit holders throughout the state.

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