Posted on behalf of Brittany Harrington
For those of you who have spent time on the Oregon coast in December, you’ve almost certainly heard talk of the commercial crab season opening. These conversations aren’t confined to the docks or a visit to the ODFW office, they can be heard over dinner at any one of the local seafood restaurants, in line at the grocery store, or casually discussed on the city bus.
As the most valuable single species fishery in Oregon, Dungeness crab represent an important source of income to many of the people and communities along the coast. Landings of Dungeness crab have been recorded in Oregon since 1889 and, since that time, three very active targeted fisheries have developed surrounding this species. The fisheries are managed at the state level with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) as the lead agency. However, managers currently face a number of complex management challenges associated with this key resource.
Over the past three months, I have had the opportunity to closely observe many of the conversations about Dungeness crab between fishery managers, industry members, and the broader coastal community. In December, I was brought on to work alongside staff from ODFW’s Marine Resources Program (MRP) to develop a Fisheries Management Plan (FMP) for the Dungeness crab fisheries in Oregon. My position is supported by the Nature Conservancy, who shares the goal of developing FMPs that allow for equitable access to marine resources while promoting the sustainability of fishery species.
I have a degree in Marine Resource Management from OSU and have spent many hours learning about different principles and practices in fisheries management, but I was particularly excited about this fellowship because it would allow me to be a part of the process and experience the practical applications of those topics that I knew largely from textbooks. I looked forward to learning from the many years of experience of the fishery managers that I am working with and from the complex interactions between stakeholders. What I had not anticipated, was how much I would learn simply from living in the town of Newport and exploring my new coastal community.
So far, the list of experiences that I’ve had in this position have been extremely diverse and rewarding. I’ve been able to dive into research on historical and existing policies surrounding the commercial and recreational crab fisheries in Oregon. I’ve assisted with hold inspections and dockside sampling which allowed me to interact with fishermen in a variety of positions and on different vessels ranging from small boats that fish for several hours and hold less than 1000 lbs of crab, to those that spend two weeks at sea and return with 150,000 lbs. I’ve attended meetings of the Oregon Dungeness Crab Advisory Committee (ODCAC) which has provided me a glimpse of the unique needs and perspectives within the commercial crab industry that we will strive to encompass in the crab FMP.
However, I would add to that list that I have also eaten in restaurants eagerly anticipating the influx of fresh crab that draws crowds of locals and tourists alike. I have witnessed the community mourning the loss of their own after the tragic death of three crab fishermen in the capsizing of the Mary B II in January. And I frequently walk along the working waterfront in Newport and observe the many indirect ties between crabbing and other local businesses.
Given the suite of emerging issues and changing ocean conditions related to this fishery, a fisheries management plan for Dungeness crab will not only provide an important, comprehensive tool for managers, but will also help to support a fishery that is central to the culture and identity of the Oregon coast. I look forward to learning more as I continue to become a part of the Newport community.
Trying my hand at recreational crabbing back in 2017 with former OSG Fellow, Deanna Caracciolo, and my husband, Cole (note: we did, in fact, get some crab that day!)
Much to my dismay, I have yet to take the obligatory headshot holding a crab for use in all work-related presentations, so instead, here is a picture of me and my pup, Charlie, enjoying a beautiful day exploring our new home!”