By Destiny Alvarez

The Register-Guard

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife received a $278,856 federal grant Friday to help fund its program to improve environmental conditions for whales off the Oregon Coast by reducing the risk of whales entangled in fishing gear.

The Funded Species Recovery grant, awarded by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, was announced by U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, both Oregon Democrats.

“Oregon has a proud history of conservation, and fishing is the lifeblood of our coastal communities economies,” Wyden said. “This important investment is a win-win on both fronts, protecting threatened whales and ensuring Oregon’s fisheries continue to thrive.”

ODFW’s project aims to help understand whale distribution patterns and population structure along the Oregon Coast.

Project data will be collected in Oregon waters from monthly surveys that will help develop environmental based, predictive species distribution models. These models are used in conservation and management to predict suitable habitat for numerous protected marine species.

Whale photo identification and tissue samples will be collected through vessel-based surveys to determine population structure. The predictive maps created from the developed models will be compared to the Oregon fishing industry to help reduce the risk of whales entangled in fishing gear along the coast. This will help the industry manage fishing efforts more effectively.

This is not the first effort made to protect the whales. The Oregon Sea Grant was established in 1971 at Oregon State University.

The Oregon Sea Grant is one of 33 state programs in NOAA Sea Grant College Program, and aims to address regionally and nationally strategic issues through competitive, reviewed research, public outreach, engagement and education.

Two years ago, after Oregon fishermen requested something be done to reduce the risk of whale entanglements in Dungeness crab and other fixed gear in Oregon, the sea grant program convened a multi-stakeholder working group to address the problem.

“Oregon’s breathtaking coast makes countless contributions to the spirit our state and the vitality of our local economies,” Merkley said. “This funding is critical to maintaining the health of our waters, while ensuring that Oregon’s fishing industry can support families in coastal communities for generations to come.”

The information gathered from this project will help the ODFW make future management decisions to protect threatened whales and ensure the stability of Oregon’s coastal fishing industries.

NOAA awarded over $11 million in Funded Species Recovery grants for state based proposals in 2019. The total ODFW grant award will be dispersed to the ODFW over the 2019, 2020 and 2021 fiscal years.

23818208