SALEM, Ore. — The Commission adopted measures to reduce the risk of whale entanglement in commercial Dungeness crab gear, while balancing economic impacts to this important fishery during their meeting today.
The new rules will be effective during the coming crab season, which begins Dec. 1, 2020. Starting May 1 each season, the new rules reduce crab pot limits by 20 percent, and restrict gear to inside 40 fathoms (the commission opted to adjust from 30 fathoms), to avoid deeper waters where humpback whales are more abundant. A season tag requirement to identify gear used after May 1 and a three-year sunset to evaluate these measures were also adopted. The Commission also put in place other measures to reduce overlap that are detailed in the Commission agenda item summary. For biotoxin management measures in the crab fishery, the Commission aligned buffer area management and effective date of management measures to be consistent with the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s crab biotoxin rules.
The Commission approved funding for several projects recommended by the Conservation and Recreational Advisory Committee. The proposed projects implement the Oregon Conservation Strategy and connect people with the outdoors, and will be funded by donations to the Oregon Conservation and Recreation Fund. This is the first round of projects under this new program.
They also approved funding for several Access and Habitat projects, which open public hunting access on private land or improve wildlife habitat, and amended the minimum bid for deer and elk auction tags.
The commission adopted 2021 Big Game Hunting Regulations including changes to archery deer season and West Cascade elk season. Beginning next year, archery deer hunting in eastern Oregon will change from a general to a controlled season. The West Cascade Elk any legal weapon season will move three weeks later to improve hunt quality, which will also eliminate the seven-day break during general deer season in the Cascades.
Commissioners declined to adopt changes that would have allowed big game hunters to use crossbows during any legal weapon seasons (when rifles, bows, handguns, and other weapons are also allowed).
ODFW staff also updated the Commission on the impacts of Oregon’s current wildfires on its properties. Several fish hatcheries are in areas evacuated or burned by recent wildfires including Rock Creek, Clackamas, McKenzie, Leaburg, Minto, Marion Forks, Salmon River and Klamath hatcheries.
Most importantly, no lives were lost among ODFW hatchery staff and their families who had to evacuate. Unfortunately, critical infrastructure was lost and fish were also lost, with Rock Creek Hatchery on the North Umpqua River sustaining the most severe damage followed by Klamath, Leaburg, and Minto. In some cases, staff were able to transfer some adult fish to other facilities, or fish were released. A few other ODFW facilities are at Level 1 or 2 evacuation status, including the Clackamas regional office, South Santiam/Foster, Dexter, Roaring River, Sandy and Cole Rivers. Staff are moving equipment offsite and have developed contingency plans for fish holding or release if moved to Level 3.
“We are still very much in the emergency response phase. The safety and security of our staff is priority one, and we have dozens of staff who have been impacted by the evacuations from their homes,” said ODFW Deputy Director Shannon Hurn. “As the state sees more stability and abatement of active fires, we will determine over the next week or two the extent of the fish loss and damage. Then, it will be time for long-term planning for repairing, replacing and funding the recovery of our infrastructure.
On behalf of the Department I would like to say thank you to all the firefighters and those volunteer on the front lines. We are very aware that the damage at several of our hatcheries would have been much more extensive without them,” continued Hurn. “Also, I’d like to say thank you to Oregon’s law enforcement, cities, counties and other community services for the relief they are providing. It is heartening to see these small forested communities rally together in the face of such devastation.”