California funding for new fishing gear helps industry, animals

0
19

If the whales and sea turtles off our California coast could speak, they would be singing the praises of our state’s Ocean Protection Council.
The California Ocean Protection Council (OPC) has approved over $1.8 million in state funding to help reduce the risk of whale and sea turtle entanglement in gear used by our state’s fisheries.
Warming ocean temperatures are changing the location of many marine animals’ feeding areas and migratory routes, increasing their overlap with fishing areas and exacerbating the risk of fishing gear entangling vulnerable species like humpback whales. Strong vertical buoy-lines used to mark the location of pots and traps on the seafloor are particularly dangerous.
When entangled, animals can become anchored in place, drowning within minutes if they are trapped below the surface. Whales still capable of swimming can suffer horrific wounds as the rope cuts into their bodies. They may slowly starve to death, struggling to eat enough to offset the extra energy burned by dragging the weight of the gear. Ill health, chronic stress, and reduced reproductive success are common effects of entanglement, and can lead to population decline for species that don’t have the numbers to spare.
Fortunately, a substantial chunk of OPC’s investment has been approved to explore and expand new technology that would virtually eliminate the risk of entanglement: “pop-up” gear.
Also known as “on-demand” or “ropeless” gear, early testing has shown that this new technology is a viable alternative to traditional fishing methods. Instead of needing a long buoy-line suspended in the water column for extended periods of time, the rope and buoy can be stored at the bottom of the seafloor or replaced with an inflatable bag. When fishers come to collect their pots or traps, they use a timer or remote trigger to “pop up” the buoyancy device to the surface.
If approved by the state for commercial use, this gear will be particularly important for fisheries around the Bay Area. Over the past few years, the harvesting season for northern California’s famous Dungeness crab has been cut short to protect species whose migration patterns coincide with crab season.
Although necessary, it’s no secret that these shorter seasons have sparked operational burdens for our state fisheries. Now, this could all change.
Related Articles Opinion Columnists | California’s largest new reservoir project in 50 years gains momentum
California’s largest new reservoir project in 50 years gains momentum Opinion Columnists | These 5 Colorado dude ranches are spectacular in winter
These 5 Colorado dude ranches are spectacular in winter Opinion Columnists | Pacific Fishery Management Council considering closures to protect deep-sea habitats
Pacific Fishery Management Council considering closures to protect deep-sea habitats Opinion Columnists | Opinion: Is the restoration of California’s cutest keystone species worth it?
Opinion: Is the restoration of California’s cutest keystone species worth it? Opinion Columnists | The nation’s top lakes and rivers for fishing include several California waterways Thanks to OPC’s recent approval of funding allocations, the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation can expand its library of pop-up gear. This will improve access to pop-up gear for the 20 California commercial Dungeness crab fishers participating in a large-scale testing project this spring. The fishers will gain hands-on experience with the gear and help collect scientific data necessary to assess the new gear’s efficacy. This data will help the California Department of Fish and Wildlife decide whether to authorize its commercial use for the 2025 Dungeness crab season.
OPC also approved up to $1.4 million for activities that will actively help enforce entanglement protections, such as the development of a virtual gear marking system for pop-up gear, line marking so that gear entangling animals can be traced back to the fishery of origin, and continued support for whale entanglement response programs. These activities will expand the decision-making toolbox that California uses to navigate the future of our state’s ocean management.
As new funding is put in place, California’s commercial Dungeness crab fishery will hopefully be able to continue operations in areas that would otherwise be closed to protect marine life from entanglement. Californians should celebrate the advancements made possible by these momentous funding decisions, and can look forward to reaping the benefits of longer fishing seasons while whales and sea turtles pass safely through our waters.
Dr. Francine Kershaw is a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

webintern@dakdan.com

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here