Hello!

Hi everyone! My name is Keiko Nomura and I am currently a second-year Master’s student studying Marine Resource Management at Oregon State University. I am a Malouf Scholar this year, and my thesis research focuses on understanding the resilience of fisheries to environmental change. For my first blog post, I want to introduce myself, my path here, and a bit about my work.

I grew up in Southern California, where I was lucky enough to be able to take occasional day trips to the beach. This is definitely where my love for the ocean originated. However, I also remember noticing how people changed the natural environment around them: housing developments, pollution, even habitat restorations both intrigued and bothered me. I became profoundly curious about the interactions between people and their environment, particularly the ocean.

As an undergraduate, I pursued this curiosity by working in marine ecology and toxicology labs focused on anthropogenic impacts to coastal organisms. These early research experiences affirmed my passions for marine science. However, I started to become interested in more interdisciplinary, policy-relevant research questions. Around this time, I studied abroad in Costa Rica taking a class on ecotourism. This time spent abroad broadened both my personal and professional perspectives. I witnessed many impressive conservation and sustainability initiatives. But I also saw the jarring realities of current unsustainable practices – disturbed sea turtle populations, overflowing landfills, displaced fishermen. Each of these issues, and success stories, was more complex than I originally thought, and the important interrelatedness of social, ecological, and economic elements in overall sustainability became abundantly clear to me. I returned home with a newfound drive to seek out broader research perspectives and integrative solutions to marine issues.

Soon thereafter, I discovered the fields of marine spatial planning and policy through an NSF REU internship. I instantly became hooked. It was exactly what I was looking for, and my sights were set for pursuing this sort of work in graduate school. Before entering my current graduate program, I worked in several informal environmental education jobs. I learned to engage with people of all ages about ocean topics ranging from tidepool ecology and oyster restorations to marine protected areas and climate change. After working as an educator, I knew I somehow had to incorporate science outreach into my future research career.

All of this has led me to where I am today at the Marine Resource Management program.  My thesis work focuses on the resilience of fishing communities to environmental change. Global oceans are changing in unprecedented ways. People and society are going to need to respond accordingly to maintain human well-being and healthy ocean ecosystem services. Fishing is one such activity that can help bolster food security and local economies. But changing ocean conditions may alter the health and distributions of fish populations, resulting in fishery closures or delayed starts. Career fishermen and seafood processors in these circumstances therefore have to deal with less work and income. My project seeks to answer the question: When fishermen cannot catch what they normally catch, what do they do? Some options include increasing their fishing effort, fishing for a different species, or, in some cases, leaving fishing altogether. Throughout my time in my graduate program, I have worked on developing methods for assessing the resilience of small-scale fisheries in Baja, Mexico, by using fisheries logbooks and environmental data. I also will create an infographic to communicate these results. Moving forward, I will apply these methods to study the resilience of commercial fisheries along the U.S. West Coast, particularly in Oregon and Washington. I look forward to making progress with these projects and reporting back to share with you all!

It’s been a fantastic year working with Oregon Sea Grant!

I have a lifelong connection to the Oregon Coast. Three generations of my family traveled each year to vacation near Waldport, and as an adult, I traveled multiple times each year to spend time on both the north and central coast of Oregon. As I began my fellowship with Oregon Sea Grant, my overall goal was to have the opportunity to apply my skills in research, outreach, and expanding collaborative partnerships, in ways that will help protect and enhance coastal environments and associated human economic and social systems in Oregon. I am happy to say that all of the projects that I worked on in 2018-2019, not only gave me this opportunity, but also enriched my academic and professional experience in ways that are immeasurable.

In November 2018, I began an Oregon Sea Grant Legislative Fellowship, where I supported the Chair of the Coastal Caucus and members of the Caucus by monitoring, researching, and reporting on legislation and legislative issues affecting marine resources and communities along the Oregon Coast. In that role, I also served as a resource for external communications with state agencies, coastal constituents and other key stakeholder groups.

In 2019, I began work as an Oregon Sea Grant Natural Resource Policy Fellow, where I focused on projects with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), the Oregon State Marine Board (OSMB), Oregon Sea Grant (OSG), and other partners. In this collaborative environment, I helped to develop project scopes and plans, implemented research, and communicate findings on several (new to me) areas of interest. My research projects ranged from understanding the use of copper in anti-fouling boat paint and potential aquatic impacts in both freshwater and marine environments; the role of synthetic fibers and the pathways of fibers in local and nearshore aquatic systems; the development of marine invasive species outreach materials for marina and boatyard operators; to a GIS project that helped to identify potential contamination point-sources to existing water systems (e.g., aquifers, WWTPs and outflows, well fields and surface drinking water systems). Last, but not least, one of my most rewarding projects was assisting with the coordination, development, and implementation of various administrative and mentorship aspects for students participating in the 2019 Oregon Applied Sustainability Experience (OASE) program.

In addition to vastly expanding my knowledge and experience in areas outside of my initial scope of expertise (ie. copper in anti-fouling boat paint, aquatic impacts of copper toxicity, scope of microfibers (plastics) in nearshore and marine environments, impacts of novel marine invasive species, etc.), my fellowship helped me to develop new skills in informal and formal communications; sharing complex and technical information to a varied audience; exploring impacts and implementation strategies for state agencies when researching and applying laws, rules, and regulations; and, understanding that political aptitude is a vital component to the successful completion of environmental projects.

As a member of the Community of Practice Oregon Sea Grant group, I look forward to continuing my personal and professional relationships with other OSG Fellows, Scholars, and grant recipients, and I will always be thankful for my experiences as an Oregon Sea Grant Natural Resource Policy Fellow.

My Journey to Grad School “Part II”

Hello and happy new year! My name is Brittany King and I am a third year PhD candidate, in the department of fisheries and wildlife at Oregon State University. My dissertation research focuses on underrepresentation of racial and ethnic groups in marine and fisheries related science professions. My first quarter as a Malouf Scholar has been full of data collection, in the form of semi-structured interviews with participants, in marine and fisheries related fields, across different racial and ethnic backgrounds and career levels. My interviews typically start out with me asking my participants to describe their career journey, which I thought would be an appropriate prompt for me to introduce myself in this blog…so here it goes!

~

Can you describe your career journey thus far?

Brittany King: Growing up, I always lived near water. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area but often took The Bay for granted. At an early age, it was hard to see more than just water, but that all changed in middle school. In my 8th grade science class, I saw a picture of a scuba diver with an organism in her hand and below it said she was a marine biologist. Until then, I had never heard of a marine biologist. but that day I went home and told my mom that I wanted to become one, not knowing anything about the occupation except that they studied a world that was so close and yet so far from my understanding.

For college, I attended Hampton University, a historically black college, which gave me the opportunity to meet amazing people, who also wanted to learn more about the marine environment. During my time at Hampton I participated in various research projects and experiences. One of my greatest experiences occurred while volunteering at the Virginia Aquarium. Through an after-school outreach program called Mentoring Young Scientists, I mentored a group of middle school students, and helped them to develop yearlong coastal trends projects. At the conclusion of each year, the students presented their projects to the public at the aquarium’s coastal trends weekend. Seeing each week how excited the students were to learn about marine habitats and their effects on them, helped me develop an interest in how coastal communities’ impact coastal habitats, and the importance of community outreach and education. 

Looking back on my time as an undergrad, I realize now that many of my experiences during that time have played a significant role in my career decisions and my current research interest. In addition to sparking an interest in community outreach, it influenced my current interest in underrepresentation. While at Hampton I was exposed to people from a variety of backgrounds, all interested in marine and environmental science. However, outside of my Hampton bubble, as a person of color entering the marine and environmental science professional space, it was hard to ignore the lack of diversity.

The first time it really hit me was when I started my master’s program, which I often refer to as grad school “Part I,” at the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at the University of California, Santa Barbara. To this day, I still have a vivid memory of walking into the courtyard for orientation, scanning the group of students and realizing that of the 70+ students in my cohort, I was the only African American. This trend continued after graduating from UC Santa Barbara, when I spent a year as a 2013 Knauss Fellow, and again, of the 50 fellows selected that year, I was the only African American. Both of these experiences resulted in me developing s strong interest in underrepresentation in marine, fisheries and environmental science related fields.

After the Knauss fellowship and prior to returning to graduate school “Part II” at OSU, I stepped out of the marine and fisheries science realm and worked as a community organizer. During this time, I was able to reevaluate my career decisions and aspirations before finding my current position in the F&W human dimension lab at OSU. The lack of diversity throughout my early career journey, coupled with my desire to pursue a career related to marine and fisheries science, has led to my current interests and dissertation research. I believe that to better understand how to recruit and retain individuals from underrepresented communities, it is important to examine the factors that influence individuals to pursue and persist in careers in marine and fisheries science professions, while identifying whether any of these key factors are unique to individuals from underrepresented populations.

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I’ve spent the past year interviewing people with a focus on how their experiences and social identities have influenced their career decisions and career experiences. As the interview portion of my research wraps up in the winter quarter, I’m looking forward to taking a deeper dive into the data.

Stay tuned!

Seasons in the Ocean

How are ocean and terrestrial seasons different?

Humans are land-loving creatures and we intuitively understand that seasons are times of change; these transitions are often signaled by cues like day length or temperature. Organisms use seasonal cues like these to time events in their life cycle that maximize survival, growth, and successful reproduction. The timing of life cycle events to coincide with seasonal environmental factors is called phenology. For example, many insects, birds, and small mammals reproduce in the spring to maximize the number of warm months to grow and accumulate resources before a harsh, cold winter. We also see several examples of insect species that have co-evolved with plant species, such that insect larvae are born in synchrony with plant prey species is present or blooming.

In the ocean, we see several similar phenological patterns though the seasonal cues can be different. Most marine organisms have complex life cycles, where nearshore, bottom-associated adults spawn very small, dispersive larvae that feed in the water column for days to months before returning to the nearshore to settle, grow, and reproduce. Many fish and invertebrate species time their reproductive events such that their larvae are feeding in prey-rich conditions. Marine larvae are small organisms, often less than 10mm in length, and so they feed on very small prey items, such as phytoplankton and zooplankton (microscopic drifting plant and animal organisms). Similar to plants on land, many phytoplankton species bloom in the springtime, when day length increases and sunlight penetrates deep into the ocean. Zooplankton populations grow when there is an abundance of the phytoplankton they feed on, and fish and invertebrate larvae populations boom in response. Sunlight and food web cues play a large role in determining the phenology of marine organisms.

It is also necessary to consider that marine organisms exist in a dynamic fluid environment. Wind, currents, tide, and coastline features are all important in determining patterns of water movement in any given area. Because marine larvae are very small, they often travel or disperse with the dominant pattern of regional water movement. Many fish species are thought to time their reproduction not only according to sun-related cues, but also to water movement-related cues such that their larvae are retained in areas with favorable habitat (e.g. a nearshore rocky reef or kelp bed). Additionally, ocean conditions change dramatically along the coastline. For example, prevailing wind patterns in northern California are drastically different from wind patterns in central and northern Oregon, resulting in an abrupt change in nutrient input, phytoplankton productivity, and water movement patterns – all cues that marine organisms are tuned in to! Understanding phenology in the ocean requires an understanding of seasonality in the food web, seasonality in water movement patterns, and how these patterns are variable in space.

My dissertation research focuses on phenology of marine fish life cycles.

A major part of my dissertation research focuses on better understanding the phenology of marine fish life cycles. I study the most vulnerable life stages of the fish life cycle (larvae and juveniles, which are known to experience very high mortality rates) to better understand how food web interactions and water circulation patterns are different along the Oregon coast and throughout the year. My ultimate goal is to use the information I gain from my research to improve predictions about the future status of fish populations, especially as ocean conditions are changing.  

As a student of the ocean, my schedule aligns with ocean seasons.

As I reflect on the importance of ocean seasons on the lives of marine fishes, my study organisms, I realize that as a student of marine science I also depend on ocean seasons. In Oregon, the April-September months are marked by a transition to nutrient and phytoplankton rich waters (known as upwelling) and many larval and juvenile fish species are present in the nearshore waters. After September, the ocean transitions in to a relatively nutrient and phytoplankton poor state (known as downwelling) that lasts until the following April. The winter months also have larger storms, night tides, and less sunlight, making field work and sampling more difficult. These seasons are reflected in my work student as well: from April-September, I spend most of my time collecting samples, going on oceanographic research cruises, and organizing a team of dedicated undergraduates to conduct field work. By the time October comes around, most of my activities are land and office-based. This is a welcome change of pace after a busy summer season. This fall quarter was a special time for me because I passed my oral exams! This marks the completion of most of my coursework and the last major checkpoint in my program before my dissertation defense. As we transition into the winter term, I’m very excited to present other parts of my dissertation work to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Marine Reserves Program, and at an international conference in Japan. I’m also looking forward to teaching an introductory biology lab course, expanding my outreach opportunities, and preparing for another summer of field work!

2019 reflections

I am completing final edits for this blog posting on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve, a time when many of us reflect upon our last 12 months and gear up for the next dozen. For me, 2019 brought some pretty big changes; including (but not limited to) a Master’s degree, a few moves and a Sea Grant fellowship. In honor of this day, my first blog post will be a reflection on my work as a student and fellow over this past year.

In the spring of 2019, I successfully defended my thesis and graduated from the Oregon State University Marine Resource Management (MRM) MS program. My graduate work focused on how shifts in human, regulatory and natural systems create ripple effects across stakeholders and coastal communities here on the West Coast. After my defense I took a few months of well-deserved soul searching, then began my position as an Oregon Sea Grant Natural Resource Policy Fellow at the Nature Conservancy (TNC) in Portland! This is an organization that I’ve admired since my undergraduate days in Arizona, so you can imagine how thrilled I was to spend a year here!

The mission of the Nature Conservancy is to “conserve the lands and waters upon which all life depends.” The Oregon chapter upholds this mission throughout many layers of terrestrial, aquatic and marine conservation work. TNC uses strategies like direct action, policy and community involvement to conduct a range of projects including acquiring land easements, stewardship programs, involvement in state and federal decision making, water monitoring, and planning for climate change impacts. 

Here at the Portland office I work closely with the “Marine Team”, a group of creative, experienced and well connected individuals who approach marine, coastal and fishery-related challenges from a diverse set of perspectives.

The way that I was introduced to this team and their scope of work was a huge highlight of my fellowship thus far: My first two days as a fellow were spent on a “field trip” alongside various coworkers, exploring marine and coastal TNC projects along the Northern and Central Oregon Coast. Under the guidance of project leaders, we explored wetland restoration sites and preserves before boarding a recreational crabbing charter in Newport and trying our hands at pot fishing. While onboard, my supervisor and Brittany (another Sea Grant fellow) briefed the group on TNC’s involvement with the Dungeness crab fishery. Our trip ended with a lunch at one of my favorite restaurants in Newport, Local Ocean, run by a fellow MRM graduate and board member at TNC. This trip offered a perfect introduction to the Nature Conservancy as an organization, who I would be working with, and the projects they are engaged in- all before I had even stepped into the office!

Since that initial “field trip” my work has been largely office-based. I have been able to hit the ground running with a handful of projects that (luckily for me!) relate to, and build upon my graduate work. At the moment, most of my time is devoted to TNC’s involvement with the Pacific Fishery Management Council’s (PFMC) Climate and Communities Initiative. Under this umbrella, I work closely with two teams; a climate-change scenario planning team focused on federal fisheries and a West Coast fishing community vulnerability assessment team. My day-to-day tasks range from conducting literature reviews, to phone interviews, coding qualitative data, assembling white papers and engaging in collaborative brainstorming efforts. 

Over the coming months I will be continuing work with the Climate and Communities initiative, and digging my teeth into state-based projects including scenario planning for the Oregon Dungeness crab fishery, and spatial planning work related to the Oregon Marine Reserves. Stay tuned as I continue to share my progress and experiences through blog posts. See you in 2020!

Oregon’s Marine Reserves: Science snapshots StoryMap

As 2019 draws to a close, it is time for me to reflect on my year as an Oregon Sea Grant Natural Resource Policy Fellow – and it’s time for me to post my farewell blog! My year assisting the Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee (STAC) to the Ocean Policy Advisory Council (OPAC) has been an amazing opportunity, and I hope that my efforts to assist STAC as they prepare for the upcoming 2023 Marine Reserves assessment will benefit all Oregonians as the process moves forward.

As a fellow, I also had the opportunity to engage in science communication activities like blogging. Instead of my usual blog, I decided to take this opportunity to highlight some of the scientific research I learned about this year in the form of a StoryMap. It would be impossible for me to do justice to all the research that’s happening at Oregon’s five marine reserves, but I attempted to highlight these things I know:

  • cool science is happening
  • science requires creative and collaborative approaches
  • research projects happening in marine reserves are helping to broaden our understanding of Oregon’s nearshore

I can also say the following with confidence: science communication is hard work! I really appreciate all the scientists who agreed to be featured, and I also truly appreciate input and photographs provided by ODFW’s Marine Reserves Program. Any mistakes are mine. Effective scicommers are awesome. While I’m not including myself in the effective scicommers category, I hope that you enjoy my first StoryMap and learn a little about Oregon’s marine reserves in the process.

Holiday crab: The start of the ocean commercial crab season in Oregon

Every December, palpable excitement fills the Oregon coast as residents anticipate the opening of the commercial Dungeness crab season. To many on the coast, Dungeness crab is at the center of holiday and family celebrations at this time of year. As crabbers prepare their vessels and gear, fishery managers coordinate with various partners to ensure that a safe, quality product is available to consumers and that access to Dungeness crab is orderly and equitable.

Like other crustaceans, Dungeness crab grow by periodically shedding a chitinous exoskeleton through a process called molting. As adults, crab molt at most once per year, leaving them in a vulnerable post-molt or softshell condition which lasts for approximately two months as the new shell hardens and fills with tissue (Rasmuson, 2013). Ocean commercial crab season regulations are designed to provide some measure of protection during the time of year when molting typically occurs as softshell crab are more susceptible to injury or mortality from handling. By restricting harvest of poor condition crab, handling impacts are reduced and a higher meat yield can be obtained by targeting crab in a hardshell condition (PFMC, 1979).

The first seasonal closure was established in 1948 using crab condition criteria based on shell hardness sampling (Waldron, 1958). Since this time, the determination of open seasons has been a topic of debate due largely to variability in coastwide molting patterns, harvest fluctuations, and socioeconomic considerations. A coastwide season opening date of December 1 and closing date no later than August 15 was first recommended in 1963 (Snow, 1963) and though the season closure date has moved several times, the regulatory season opening date has remained unchanged.

Over time, a number of efforts have been made to improve coastwide coordination of season openings allowing for an orderly start to the crab season. Since 1993, this coordination has taken the form of the Tri-state protocol which details a preseason testing program based on meat recovery and season opening procedure for Washington, Oregon, and California (Didier, 2002). The latest revision of the preseason testing protocol for the Tri-state coastal Dungeness crab commercial fishery, signed in August 2019, is available here.

Today, preparation for the season opening begins in late November as Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) partners with the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission to collect crab for preseason testing. Concurrently, crab are collected from each test station for Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) domoic acid tests. Once the season opening structure is determined, ODFW notifies industry and the public as soon as possible so that there is adequate time to prepare to fish.

In Oregon, fishers are allowed to set commercial crab pots during a 73-hour gear setting period prior to the season opening (OAR 635-005-0485). A gear setting period was first adopted in the mid-1960s at the request of industry to provide equal opportunity to vessels of all sizes, reduce congestion, and improve safety (ODFW, 1983).

Beginning on the day prior to the season opening, Oregon State Police conduct hold inspections of all vessels participating in the first 30 days of the season, with assistance from ODFW (OAR 635-055-0465). Each vessel hold is inspected and certified to be free of crab before providing the vessel operator an Oregon hold inspection certificate. If the fishery has been divided into multiple fishing zones, the fisher must also declare which fishing zone they intend to fish. A vessel used for fishing crab in an open zone is then prohibited from fishing in any zone that opens later within the same crab season until 30 days after the later-opening zone has opened.

In addition to regulatory season delays due to meat quality or biotoxins (i.e., domoic acid), industry-led delays of the ocean commercial season may occur for several reasons. Historically, these delays have been the result of inclement weather or inability to agree upon a starting price. A state-supervised price negotiation process was established in 2003 to allow harvesters and processors to collectively bargain for an opening price. This voluntary price negotiation process is initiated only at the request of harvesters and dealers representing at least 51% of the active permits and buying capacity in the state, respectively. If this threshold is met and price negotiations proceed, the process is overseen by ODA with involved parties bound by the terms of the negotiated price agreement. Through this process, crabbers are able to set gear and begin fishing safely and efficiently, while processors can ensure a dependable supply of crab.

The commercial crab season opening is a complex process that involves many parties and is subject to variability in weather, crab abundance, molting patterns, and a number of other factors. Dungeness crab are an iconic retail product and culturally significant species in Oregon, and regulations are designed to maintain product quality, while also allowing for an orderly start to the season to minimize safety concerns.

With the ocean commercial crab season opening tomorrow in Oregon, it is an exciting time to be working with ODFW in Newport. I’ve been able to observe and participate in various aspects of two season openings now, and I’m continually impressed by the amount of time, effort, and coordination that is required to get the season started. Like everyone else on the coast, I look forward to the coming weeks and the influx of fresh Dungeness crab that will soon available and ready to be enjoyed by all!

References

Didier, A. J., Jr. 2002. The Pacific coast Dungeness crab fishery. Submitted to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation of the United States Senate and Committee on Resources of the United States House of Representatives. The Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, 30 pp.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW). 1983. Staff statement on preseason setting of crab pots and crab pot release mechanism for public hearing March 18, 1983. Exhibit E. Marine Region, 4 pp.

Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC). 1979. Draft Fishery Management Plan for the Dungeness Crab Fishery off Washington, Oregon and California. 93 pp.

Rasmuson, L. K. 2013. The biology, ecology, and fishery of the Dungeness crab, Cancer magister. In Advances in Marine Biology, Vol. 65, pp. 95–148. Ed. By M. Lesser. Academic Press, Burlington. 176 pp.

Snow, C. D. 1963. Oregon crab management. Oregon Fish Commission, 14 pp.

Waldron, K. D. 1958. The fishery and biology of the Dungeness crab (Cancer magister Dana) in Oregon waters. Fish Commission of Oregon, Report No. 24, 45 pp.

Oregon marine reserves evaluation – what about the people?

These past three months I have been serving as the Natural Resource Policy Fellow (NRPF) with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (ODFW) Marine Reserve Program. My position is focused on understanding the effects marine reserves may be having on coastal communities and visitors.

First, a little background on the marine reserves. Oregon’s five marine reserves were phased in from 2012 to 2016 and they currently make up 9% of the territorial sea. The territorial sea just means Oregon’s state waters, which are less than three nautical miles from the shore. There are no extractive activities or development allowed in the marine reserves. However, each marine reserve has adjacent Marine Protected Areas where some extractive activities are allowed. These marine reserves can be thought of as being in a trial phase. The Marine Reserves Program, including the management, scientific monitoring, outreach, community engagement, compliance, enforcement, and funding for the marine reserves, is up for evaluation beginning in the year 2022. The Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee (STAC) will choose an Oregon public university to prepare a report on the Marine Reserves Program for the Oregon Legislative Assembly.

One of the primary marine reserve goals was to “avoid significant adverse social and economic impacts on ocean users and coastal communities”. This goal was set in 2008 in the Oregon Marine Reserve Policy Recommendations document developed by the Oregon Ocean Policy Advisory Council (OPAC). This is where my position as an NRPF comes in. To determine if there have been any marine reserve impacts, we must compare socioeconomic data prior to marine reserve implementation and after marine reserve implementation. There are many different approaches we are using to achieve this goal both in house and with academic and professional collaborators. For example, we are comparing changes in socioeconomic indicators (e.g. per capita income) in communities near and far the reserves using census data. We are also looking at the potential economic loss to fishers with benthic species mapping, fish ticket data, and logbooks. We are also assessing whether there are any changes to visitor use at the shoreline adjacent to marine reserves with visitor surveys and observation counts. These are just a few of the many examples I could provide.

During this brief time that I have been a NRPF, I have already learned a great deal. I was even tasked with writing a literature review on stakeholder engagement and creating literature-based definitions for the terms stakeholder engagement (in general), informal stakeholder engagement, formal stakeholder engagement, stakeholder, and outreach. This literature review will be used to help evaluate the communications side of the Marine Reserves Program. I am looking forward to continuing to grow in this position while contributing to a project that I consider an important tool for natural resource management. Now, I will leave you with a picture of my dog (Moose – she’s from Alaska, hence the name) enjoying Newport’s South Beach.

Moose the golden retriever at South Beach, Newport

Whale entanglement mitigation in Oregon

My first summer as a full-time Oregon coast resident has been full of trips to the beach, blackberry picking, hikes, and hammock reading. On most days after work, I am able to enjoy walking my dog along the bluff by our house where you can often spot the telltale spray of whales feeding in the coastal waters. However, given my current project (read about it here!), I can’t help but think about the issue of whale entanglement that occurs when these animals come into contact with fishing gear, and specifically Dungeness crab fixed gear. As part of my fellowship, I will drafting a section for the Dungeness crab fishery management plan (FMP) describing this complicated problem and the work that is being done throughout Oregon and the west coast to address it.

Whale entanglements on the U.S. West Coast have historically occurred at low levels, but an increase in the number of confirmed entanglements has been reported since around 2014. A number of complex factors may be contributing to the increased occurrence of entanglements including changing environmental conditions, altered whale and prey abundance and distribution, shifting fishery effort, and improved public reporting. However, a range of information gaps currently exist that hinder our ability to effectively reduce risk.

Most entanglement reports are the result of opportunistic sightings which are “confirmed” by NOAA Fisheries using photos or videos of the entangled whale, follow-up observations by NOAA staff, or consultation with experienced partners involved in the West Coast Region Marine Mammal Stranding Network. If these criteria are inadequate or unavailable, then these reports cannot be confirmed.

While reporting and response efforts are continually improving, there is still a high degree of uncertainty about the source of entanglements. Whales travel great distances which can make it incredibly difficult to determine the timing and location of entanglements. In a large portion of confirmed reports, it is also not possible to identify the gear type or specific fishery it is associated with. It is clear, however, that whales are entangled in a wide variety of gear types and configurations which contributes to the complexity of the issue and makes a simple solution unlikely.

The majority of identifiable entangling gear has been attributed to trap or pot fisheries, and particularly the commercial Dungeness crab fishery. This issue was highlighted in 2017 by a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity against the California Department of Fish and Wildlife for allegedly allowing the Dungeness crab fishery to take whales listed under the Endangered Species Act without an approved Incidental Take Permit (ITP). In March 2019, a settlement agreement was reached resulting in the early closure of the California fishery on April 15th and including a number of measures for future seasons.

State management agencies along the west coast are actively working to reduce the risk of whale entanglements in Dungeness crab and other fixed gear. In Oregon, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) is working with researchers, industry, state and federal partners, and the Oregon Whale Entanglement Working Group (OWEWG) to develop management measures and strategies to supplement existing regulations that reduce entanglement risk (e.g., limited entry and pot limits, summer fishery trip limits, post-season derelict gear retrieval program, etc.). The agency is also collaborating with researchers at Oregon State University’s Marine Mammal Institute on a study to better understand the temporal and spatial distribution of whales off Oregon and habitat use patterns. In April 2019, ODFW formalized their intent to apply for an ITP and has taken steps to initiate the multi-year process.

Additionally, ODFW will be recommending management measures for whale entanglement mitigation through a phased approach to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission (OFWC) in the coming months. Phase 1 will be recommended in September for implementation at the start of the 2019-20 crab season, while Phase 2 will be recommended in early 2020 for implementation as early as spring 2020. Recommended management measures aim to improve our understanding of when crab fishery effort overlaps with whale occurrence throughout the season and our ability to determine where and when entanglements originate. Measures will also be recommended to reduce the number of vertical lines in the water during a potential “late season” fishery when whale feeding aggregations are commonly found off Oregon. Details of these rule-making packages can be found in the ODFW industry notice found here.

Voluntary best practices that the Oregon crab fleet can take to reduce the risk of whale entanglement have also been developed by the OWEWG and are available here.

I look forward to learning more about this issue in the coming weeks as ODFW prepares to recommend Phase 1 of the whale mitigation rule-making packages to the OFWC. Moving forward, I will work to include in the FMP the collaborative efforts of various partners working to mitigate the risk of whale entanglements, while maintaining the vitality of the crab fishery.

Additional references

Braby, C. 2019. Reducing risk of whale entanglements in Dungeness crab gear – building resiliency into the crab management framework. Director’s Report. Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Marine Resources Program. Available at https://www.dfw.state.or.us/agency/commission/minutes/19/06_June/Director’s%20Report_Whale.pdf

NOAA Fisheries. 2019. 2018 West Coast Whale Entanglement Summary. U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Marine Fisheries Service. 10 pp. Available at https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/resource/document/2018-west-coast-whale-entanglement-summary

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW). 2019. Industry notice, April 12, 2019. 4 pp. Available at https://www.dfw.state.or.us/MRP/shellfish/commercial/crab/docs/Industry%20Notice%202019-0412_FINAL.pdf

Saez, L., Lawson, D., DeAngelis, M., Petras, E., Wilkin, S., and Fahy, C. 2013. Understanding the co-occurrence of large whales and commercial fixed gear fisheries off the west coast of the United States. NOAA Technical Memorandum, NOAA-TM-NMFS-SWR-044. 102 pp.

Wrapping Up My Time as a Malouf Scholar

Where has this past year gone?! Just a year ago, I received the Robert E. Malouf Scholarship. Now, I’m writing my last blog post as a scholar and preparing to start a fellowship in New Orleans.

Looking back at why I applied for the Malouf Scholarship, I’m proud of how my Master’s research can inform science communication to Oregon Sea Grant’s served coastal communities. I developed a set of five best practices that scientists, natural resource managers, and other science professionals should consider when communicating with their audiences.

So, how can I as a(n) [insert your profession here] be a better communicator? Well….

Best Practice #1: choose appropriate goals and outcomes for communication

First, you should create some goals and outcomes for the communication activity. Consider what you hope to achieve, and how you would measure success of your actions. For example, are you just hoping to inform your audience, or do you want to start a long-term dialogue? Since science communication is not static, these goals and outcomes should be continually evaluated and updated.

Best Practice #2: choose a scope and scale for information

Next, you’ll want to consider an appropriate scope and scale for your information. This includes thinking about the area (both geographic and temporal) and level of detail that your audience might want to hear. Consider including your audience at this step to help determine information needs.

Best Practice #3: design an appropriate communication structure

Once you decide your science communication goal and determine what type of information you want to communicate, then you should develop an appropriate communication structure. What is a sensible order to your information? What graphics or visuals might be used to communicate your information?

Best Practice #4: build relationships with current and new audiences

As a science communicator, you won’t be talking to an empty room, but to people who have unique perspectives, information needs, and levels of understanding. Building relationships early in the communication process may help improve information delivery and create buy-in with your audience. Your audience should understand why they matter in your communication process.

Best Practice #5: choose an appropriate communication tool

By considering the goals, information, and communication structure, you might have started thinking about what tool will be most effective for your science communication. If your goal is simply to inform, then a presentation, video, or social media may be an effective communication tool. However, different structures would need to be used to have a dialogue and develop a two-way relationship with your audience. Again, consider including your audience in developing this communication structure so it meets their needs.
Before rolling out the communication tool, test that it is working as intended. While technology is great for reaching new people, we all get frustrated when it doesn’t work as intended!

In the end, science communication can be a difficult process. If you aren’t connecting to your audience as intended, try not to get discouraged. Be flexible in your process and try connecting with new people.