The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission voted Aug. 4 to extend for limits on Dungeness crab trap gear to protect migrating whales from entanglement. The rules on trap numbers, depth sets and seasonal limits, first set in 2020, had been coming up for expiration.

Commissioners agreed to review the rules again in two years. Primarily aimed at reducing danger to humpback whales, Oregon trap limits start with the fishing season in December. Trap numbers are reduced 20 percent with a 240-foot depth limit from May 1 through the end of the season, which typically is the time of year when humpbacks are most common off Oregon.

Fishermen worry about over-regulation of the Dungeness fishery, which in 2021-2022 landed a record-setting $91 million catch, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Meanwhile environmental groups argue the rule extension does not go far enough.

“Fewer lines in the water in the early spring and summer would lead to less risk to threatened and endangered whales that are migrating to and feeding off our coast,” said Ben Enticknap, Pacific campaign manager for the group Oceana. “Whales should have safe passage in our waters and Oregonians should have access to whale-safe crab. But we’re not there yet.”

 Activists called for further trap and vertical line reductions and depth restrictions to start by April 15. As in California, the groups are seeking adoption of ropeless or on-command fishing gear with pop-up buoy systems to eliminate fixed vertical lines.

Fishermen told the commission that further trap reductions were not necessary, considering the level of fishing activity and Oregon’s stable incidence of whale interactions.

In 2022 two entanglements linked to Oregon gear were reported, according to NMFS. The agency says an annual average of 35 entanglements were reported off the West Coast during eight years ending in 2021. 

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