Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife officials have issued a fleet advisory for commercial Dungeness crab harvesters through May 31, urging vigilance to avoid setting gear in area where humpback whales are transiting or foraging to further minimize risk of entanglement.
ODFW is anticipating an above average crab harvest in May, based on the high volume of late-season tag purchases. Meanwhile, surveys conducted in Oregon waters from April 13 through April 25 observed scattered humpbacks and other large whales in waters deeper than 270 fathoms, primarily in the southern region from Newport to the Oregon-California border.
However one aggregation of about 30 to 50 humpbacks was observed within 40 fathoms, just outside the Columbia River mouth. Due to ocean dynamics and the rapid movement of whales, the locations of the whales is likely to change over time, and ODFW is concerned about avoiding entanglements with fishing gear.
Crabbers are being reminded to remove any fishing gear not actively being tended and to promptly remove all gear from the ocean when finished crabbing for the season.
ODFW officials said crabbers should adjust the length of pot lines when moving pots to shallower water to maintain taut vertical lines, minimize surface gear and ensure no excess line is floating at the surface, avoid setting gear in the vicinity of large feeding aggregations of whales, and to participate in derelict gear recovery by getting a permit to recover gear or report locations of derelict gear for permitted vessels to target for removal.
ODFW urged crabbers to consider reporting whale sightings using the WhaleAlert app and to share locations of unusually high whale or sea turtle activity with ODFW and other fishermen.
Any entangled marine mammals or sea turtles should be promptly reported at 1-877-SOS-WHALE (1-877-767- 9425).