Oregon Measures Fall Short of Protecting Whales from Entanglement - Oceana USA

Oregon Measures Fall Short of Protecting Whales from Entanglement

Fish and Wildlife Commission Adopts Measures Already Shown Insufficient to Reduce Entanglement of Threatened and Endangered Humpback Whales

Press Release Date: August 7, 2023

Location: Salem, Ore.


Ashley Blacow | email: ablacow@oceana.org | tel: Ashley Blacow

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission voted in support of a suite of management measures that are insufficient to protect whales from entanglement in commercial Dungeness crab fishing gear. The Commission’s vote is despite the urging of Oceana and a coalition of partners for more meaningful protections to reduce the risk of injury and death to whales as they feed and migrate off Oregon’s coast

Ben Enticknap, Oceana’s Pacific Campaign Manager and Senior Scientist released the following statement in response:

“The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission missed the boat by not adopting stronger measures to protect whales. They could have done so while still maintaining Oregon’s thriving commercial Dungeness crab fishery. 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. Whales should have safe passage in our waters and Oregonians should have access to whale-safe crab. But we’re not there yet.”


After a two-year evaluation period (2021-2022) the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife recommended that the Fish and Wildlife Commission continue with a limited set of risk reduction measures for the Oregon commercial Dungeness crab fishery intended to reduce whale entanglements. This is despite humpback whale entanglements not declining during that period, indicating that the measures have not been effective. Meanwhile, the Oregon crab fishery landed more than 31.3 million pounds of Dungeness crab this year, the second highest amount on record.

Two humpback whale populations migrate to and feed off the Oregon coast. The population that breeds off Mexico is listed as threatened and the Central American population is endangered with extinction under the federal Endangered Species Act.

According to federal records, between 2012 and 2022 there were 333 confirmed whale entanglements in West Coast fisheries with 30 in the last year alone, including humpbacks entangled in Oregon Dungeness crab gear. Once entangled, whales experience significant physical trauma, starvation, severe tissue damage, infection, and even death. According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, about 75% of all reported whale entanglements are fatal. The Fisheries Service also states that most entanglements are never observed — and that reported entanglements are estimated to be only 10% of the actual number of whales entangled.

Oceana recommended the Commission further reduce the number of pots and vertical lines allowed in the water and implement broader depth restrictions no later than April 15 each year, when new science shows peak exposure between humpback whales and the Oregon crab fishery. Oceana recommended time and area closures that align with humpback whale critical habitat and a commitment to a time-certain date for distinct gear marking to better trace the origin of entanglements. Oceana also encouraged the use of “pop-up” fishing gear as a viable way to fish for crab safely in the presence of whales, as fishing lines and buoys remain with traps on the seafloor until the gear is ready to be retrieved. This removes the entanglement threat caused by vertical fishing lines spanning hundreds of feet in the water for days on end.

The Commission agreed to review its whale entanglement risk reduction rules again in two years.

For more information on pop-up gear please see Oceana’s new report: Pathway to Pop-up Fishing Gear.

For more information on Oceana’s campaign to prevent whale entanglements visit www.oceana.org/whalesafeoceans.

Oceana is the largest international advocacy organization dedicated solely to ocean conservation. Oceana is rebuilding abundant and biodiverse oceans by winning science-based policies in countries that control one-quarter of the world’s wild fish catch. With more than 275 victories that stop overfishing, habitat destruction, oil and plastic pollution, and the killing of threatened species like turtles, whales, and sharks, Oceana’s campaigns are delivering results. A restored ocean means that 1 billion people can enjoy a healthy seafood meal every day, forever. Together, we can save the oceans and help feed the world. Visit Oceana.org to learn more.