Addressing the serious injury and mortality of large whales due to entanglement in fishing gear is a national priority for the NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). However, along the U.S. west coast, much is unknown about why, when, where, and how whales are seriously injured or killed due to entanglement, how this threat may be affecting their populations, and what can be done to minimize the risk. For some fisheries NMFS tracks entanglements along with other bycatch using onboard observers; however, for the majority of fisheries, entanglement information comes from opportunistic reports by the public or other agencies. Of the reports received, fixed gear (e.g., pot and trap gear) is the most commonly recognized and reported gear type causing entanglements since 2000 (Saez et al., In prep.). Over the past four years, NMFS WCR has been compiling data on entanglements and large whale migratory movements to identify areas of overlap and increased risk of entanglement. The results of that effort are presented in a NOAA technical memorandum titled Understanding the co-occurrence of larges whales and commercial fixed gear fisheries off the west coast of the United States (Saez et al., 2013). NMFS WCR hosted a two day workshop to review, share, and analyze the information from the Tech Memo along with results from similar analyses from other fisheries in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans and other current research with interested stakeholders, promote feedback, and consider next steps in achieving the long-term goal of reducing large whale interactions with fixed gear fisheries (Appendix 1 – Agenda).
The three primary goals for this workshop were to:
- Bring together experts in the fields of marine mammals, fisheries, modeling, bycatch, lost gear/marine debris, and management, to share information relevant to this issue;
- Identify data gaps, data needs, and next steps;
- If possible, begin to develop research and outreach priorities. These steps are necessary to better understand large whale entanglement and continue to build a strong sciencebased foundation for any actions that may be necessary to protect whales.
Workshop participants included scientists, managers, and experts with knowledge of large whales, large whale entanglement and fisheries (Appendix 2 – List of Participants). Presentations spanned several topics including: risk assessment models; large whale abundance, distribution and behavior; fishery characterizations and management regimes; and, gear reduction/recovery efforts. The workshop concluded that although the models presented provide direction on where whales are more likely to encounter commercial fishing gear, more research is needed to understand the conservation concern and mechanisms of large whale entanglement to help better inform future management actions aimed at reducing whale entanglement risks. In the interim, workshop participants identified action items that may be pursued such as gear marking and engagement with the commercial fishing industry through port-based meetings. Participants identified four recommendations concerning reducing large whale entanglements off the U.S. west coast. The four recommendations are listed under the Workshop Recommendations/Action Items in Section 1.1 below.