Brokering Lane Agreements Between Crabbers and Towboat Operators

Kevin Decker, Coastal Economist

In the late 1970s, conflicts between oceangoing tugs and commercial crabbers became a major problem in Washington, Oregon and California. Crab pots fouled tugs as they moved between coastal ports, and the loss of gear created severe hardships for commercial crabbers. Sea Grant programs on the West Coast helped broker an agreement that provided navigable towboat and barge lanes through the crabbing grounds between Cape Flattery, Washington, and San Francisco.

Since the late 1990s, WSG has led this process, maintaining the industries’ cooperation and saving them more than $1 million annually. WSG will continue to hold several negotiations each year, improve electronic towlane charts and evaluate the project’s economic impacts.

Towards that, in summer 2016 a new set of visually enhanced charts (“chartlets”) was published, and a Google map webpage that will reflect the same detail as the chartlets is currently under development. In addition, WSG is facilitating discussions between industry and the National Weather Service and U.S. Coast Guard to improve marine weather forecasting and coastal bar-closure policies, and will highlight discussion outcomes.

Commercial Fisheries Marketing Initiative

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and WSG are partnering with commercial fishermen to increase awareness of Washington State’s sustainably harvested seafood products, which has become particularly critical in the face of the current COVID-19 outbreak. This initiative addresses a gap in consumer information about fisheries management and the measures taken by WDFW to ensure that seafood delivered to Washington consumers is sustainably caught, while raising consumer awareness of fishing techniques, business practices, and economic impact.

An advisory group representing all fisheries niches in Washington was established and now meeting monthly, a web page providing COVID-19 resources to fishers and a consumer COVID-19 resource page were created and a social media campaign was launched spring 2020.

In addition to this project, WSG created COVID-19 resource pages for Washington State families and educators and for the shellfish industry.

Marine Safety and First Aid Training

Robert Maw, Fisheries Specialist

WSG helps Washington fishermen reduce risks with port-based, U.S. Coast Guard-certified training in emergency preparedness, fire response, cold-water rescue, first aid and other safety measures, using the latest equipment and procedures. Staff specialists also train recreational boaters in first aid and at-sea safety and survival. Since the mid-1990s, WSG safety training classes on Puget Sound, Washington’s outer coast and the Columbia River have markedly reduced fatalities in several fisheries.Topics covered in First Aid at Sea courses include patient assessment, hypothermia, cold water, near-drowning, shock, trauma, burns, fractures, choking, immobilization and important contents for first aid kits.

WSG experts also train commercial fishermen and charter boat operators in how to conduct safety drills at sea. These courses meet the training requirements of the Commercial Fishing Safety Act. The course work combines lectures and hands-on experience with the safety and survival equipment required on commercial fishing vessels. Fishermen and boaters learn about emergency procedures and develop appropriate drills for their own vessels.

Contact Robert Maw at

Pollock Stock Assessment Preview

Pollock and salmon are among the most important fishery resources in Alaska. The pollock fishery in the Eastern Bering Sea is based in Seattle and is one of the largest fisheries in the world. It is also closely monitored for its incidental catch of salmon, which can close the fishery if bycatch limits are exceeded. For these reasons, the status of the pollock stock and the level of salmon bycatch are of keen interest to many who live in Seattle.

Each year Washington Sea Grant co-hosts a forum at which scientists from the Alaska Fisheries Science Center of NOAA fisheries preview the most recent assessment of the Eastern Bering Sea pollock population, which is the basis for setting the catch levels for this fishery.

The forum, presented in partnership with the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences and the College of the Environment, is held prior to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council process that sets catch limits for the coming year. It provides fishermen, local marine businesses, environmental groups, students and faculty an opportunity to learn about the science underpinning the stock assessment and discuss trends in data.

In 2014 the scope of the meeting expanded to include industry presentations on new developments in gear modifications that exclude salmon from pollock trawls. These new trawl nets have the potential to forestall closures of the fishery and conserve the salmon resource for native Alaskan coastal communities.

In 2015, the program included a presentation on the newly announced Bering Sea Climate Change Study — a collaboration of NOAA and UW scientists to assess the possible biological and ecological consequences of climate change on Bering Sea fish and fisheries. The 3-year study will focus on five key species including pollock.

For 2016, the program presented a new, multispecies trophic interaction model that links three key Bering Sea species — walleye pollock, Pacific cod and arrowtooth flounder.

Seabird Bycatch Prevention in Fisheries

Hundreds of thousands of seabirds, including protected albatrosses and petrels, are trapped and drowned in longline and trawl fisheries worldwide each year. Seabird avoidance measures developed and promoted by WSG have dramatically reduced the number of birds, particularly the endangered short-tailed albatross, caught in the fishing lines off Alaska and the West Coast, and also have reduced bait loss and improved fishing efficiency.

These measures, which use strategically deployed bird-repelling streamer lines, have been adopted by the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council and are used by tuna fisheries worldwide. WSG and its Oregon and California partners have tested and refined prevention measures in the West Coast sablefish fishery, the regional fishery with the greatest potential for reducing or eliminating losses of the endangered albatrosses.

WSG scientist Ed Melvin and his collaborators won the 2015 Presidential Migratory Bird Federal Stewardship Award for their work implementing the Seabird Bycatch program along the West Coast and for their outstanding achievements in bird conservation.

WSG shares the 2015 Presidential Award with NOAA’s West Coast Region and Northwest Fisheries Science Center, Oregon State University, California Sea Grant, Oregon Sea Grant, the Makah, Quinault, and Quileute tribes, and other agencies and industry groups.

West Coast Fisheries Participation Study

Melissa Poe, Social Scientist

The livelihoods of fishermen and women who work along the West Coast are heavily influenced by the inherent variations in the ocean, intrinsic economic uncertainty, and the effects of management. In collaboration with NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center, investigators are conducting a survey of the West Coast fleets and interviewing fisheries participants to improve understanding of how they respond to these changes. Community and individual responses may vary significantly, depending on diverse social and economic factors.

Washington Sea Grant is leading a study of West Coast fisheries to better understand the various social factors that explain the motivations and benefits of commercial fishing and changes in fishing-based livelihoods.