Oregon considering further Dungeness crab restrictions
The U.S. state of Oregon is considering a handful of new restrictions on Dungeness crab fishermen – including a 20 percent reduction in pot limits – to reduce the risk of wildlife becoming entangled in crabbing gear.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) is planning to host a meeting in Salem, Oregon, U.S.A. on 4 August to discuss the changes and evaluate the effectiveness of previously adopted measures.
The department is considering a slate of new risk reduction actions, including:
- A 20 percent reduction in the pot limits across all permits;
- Requiring an additional late-season buoy tag starting 1 May;
- Prohibiting commercial crabbing outside of 40 fathoms starting 1 May; and
- Restricting the amount of surface gear.
The department is also working with the states of Washington and California and NOAA Fisheries on developing line-marking requirements for West Coast crab fisheries. ODFW said additional work is still needed on that proposal, and it will not be presented along with the other measures in August.
In 2022, NOAA Fisheries documented seven humpback whales that had become entangled in Dungeness crab gear, according to its most recent West Coast whale entanglement report. The agency identified crab gear from Oregon fishermen in two of those incidents.
The Natural Resources Defense Council said the proposed actions do not go far enough in protecting endangered species such as humpback whales, blue whales, and leatherback sea turtles.
“The proposed risk reduction measures are not expected to reduce entanglement risk to the necessary levels,” NRDC Senior Scientist for Marine Mammals Francine Kershaw said in a blog post. “ODFW is proposing to make permanent the temporary risk reduction measures that were in place for the last three seasons (…) However, humpback whale entanglements showed no signs of decline during that period.”
The NRDC suggests a 40 percent pot limit reduction, a depth restriction of 28 fathoms, and the implementation of risk reductions measures by 15 April, when whales are at peak entanglement risk. The nonprofit also wants the state government to announce an emergency fishery closure if a right whale or orca are entangled.
In California, the discovery of three humpback whales entangled in commercial Dungeness crab gear in March 2022 led to an early closure of the commercial season. This year, California closed most of its state waters to Dungeness crab fishing on 15 April due to migrating humpback whales. Nonprofit Oceana called on the state to take further actions after three humpback whales were confirmed entangled in Monterey Bay this year.
“As migrating whales return to the California coast, we have a responsibility to ensure they can swim and feed without the risk of becoming entangled in fishing gear, which too often has deadly consequences,” Oceana California Campaign Director and Senior Scientist Geoff Shester said. “Oceana is concerned that these depth restrictions do not go far enough to prevent entanglements as more and more whales will continue arriving before the Northern California crabbing season ends.”
Photo courtesy of NOAA Fisheries/West Coast Large Whale Entanglement Response Program