The Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission has voted unanimously to support a multi-year study to prevent whale entanglements off the Oregon coast.

The board of the industry-funded agency approved up to $45,00 toward the first year of the three-year $300,000 aerial survey of humpbacks, gray whales and blue whales.

"One of the best known ways to reduce whale entanglements is to reduce the overlap between where fishing gear is and where whales are," said Leigh Torres, a researcher with the Oregon State University Marine Mammal Institute, in an interview with Spokane Public Radio. "In the state of Oregon, we have pretty good information about where the fishing gear is, but not that great information about whale distribution in our waters. So that is really the knowledge gap that this project wants to fill."

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

The board also approved writing a letter of support for the study seeking additional funding from federal grants to sustain the three-year study.

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

“It is our belief that this project will help fill-in critical gaps in our working knowledge of whales off Oregon,” said Link. “This study will help our industry by providing important baseline information about the distribution and population structure of whales off Oregon. It will also help to inform the management making decisions by evaluating the co-occurrence of whales with fixed-gear fishing effort to ultimately identify areas and times of high/low whale entanglement risk.”

Whale entanglements have spiked over the past three years and West Coast crabbers have been managing the fallout. Last year, a federal report confirmed 31 whales were caught in commercial crab and other fishing gear off the coasts of Oregon, Washington, California and parts of Mexico.

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Samuel Hill is the former associate editor for National Fisherman. He is a graduate of the University of Southern Maine where he got his start in journalism at the campus’ newspaper, the Free Press. He has also written for the Bangor Daily News, the Outline, Motherboard and other publications about technology and culture.

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