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Oregon’s $91 million Dungeness crab market can’t get over the humpback whale entanglement rules

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Oregon has extended rules restricting the state’s lucrative Dungeness crab fishery in order to protect humpback whales from becoming entangled in ropes attached to crab traps, the state’s fish and wildlife department has announced.

Humpbacks, which migrate off Oregon’s coast, and other whales can get caught in the vertical ropes connected to the heavy traps and drag them around for months, leaving the mammals injured, starved or so exhausted that they can drown. Oregon’s Dungeness crab fishery is one of the backbones of the Pacific Northwest’s fishing industry, but crabbers fear that overregulation will harm the industry.

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission voted late Friday to extend, with no sunset date, measures that were originally supposed to end after this season, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said in a statement. The measures include limiting the number of crab traps in the water and how deep they can be placed in the months when humpback whales are more likely to swim there.

Commissioners also requested that the rules be reviewed after two years.

Whale entanglements started to increase in 2014 along the West Coast but remained low and stable in Oregon. Humpback whales, a federally-listed species with a growing population off the West coast, are the whales most frequently entangled.

The whales can get caught in the vertical ropes connected to the heavy traps and drag them around for months, leaving the mammals injured, starved or so exhausted that they can drown.

The debate in the Pacific Northwest is a microcosm of the broader struggle nationwide to address the urgent problem of whale entanglements without wiping out commercial fishermen. California and the U.S. East Coast have taken similar actions to protect whales.

In 2021-2022, Oregon crabbers landed more than 17 million pounds (7.7 million kilograms) and delivered a record $91 million in crab due to high market prices.



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