Oregon Fish and Wildlife officials released a draft conservation plan that aims to protect endangered whales and sea turtles from entanglement in Oregon’s commercial Dungeness crab fishery. In recent years, whales and sea turtles have increasingly become entangled in fishing gear in Pacific Ocean waters off the U.S. West Coast. Along with other impacts, entanglements in fishing gear threaten the recovery of endangered humpback whales, blue whales, and Pacific leatherback sea turtles that migrate and feed off the Oregon coast.
According to federal experts, roughly 75 percent of reported whale entanglements are fatal as whales or sea turtles can drag the heavy fishing gear for months, hindering their ability to dive and feed. This can result in malnutrition, starvation, infection to damaged flukes or tails and even severed appendages and drowning.
“Whales and sea turtles swim thousands of miles to feed off our coast and we should do all we can to make sure they don’t face a deadly maze of fishing lines once they get here,” stated Ben Enticknap, Pacific campaign manager and senior scientist with Oceana. “Entanglement in Dungeness crab fishing gear is an ongoing threat to marine life. We’re heartened to see the state of Oregon seeking solutions that would allow for commercial crab fishing without threatening the lives of endangered whales and turtles.”
“We encourage the testing and use of innovative 'pop-up' gear to allow for safer and more sustainable crab fishing in the future,” said Enticknap.
Pop-up fishing gear—sometimes called “ropeless” gear—involves systems where lines and buoys remain with the trap on the ocean floor instead of hanging unattended in the water column for days connected to a surface buoy. Since 2018, Oceana has been partnering with Dungeness crab fishermen and scientists in California to test and develop pop-up gear. Pop-up gear would allow the opportunity for continued crabbing when entanglement risk is elevated.
“Ultimately we want to see an adaptive approach where fishermen have the opportunity to catch crab while avoiding the potential risk of whale or sea turtle entanglement,” said Geoff Shester, senior scientist with Oceana. “We see huge potential for innovative fishing methods like pop-up gear that allow for a vibrant fishery while also ensuring endangered whales and turtles can freely and safely feed off our shores.”
The draft Conservation Plan is posted on the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife whale entanglement mitigation webpage and the agency is now taking public comment ahead of the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission’s September 17 meeting.