Historically, tracking Oregon’s marine fisheries hasn’t been an exact science. Record-keeping consists of tired fishermen jotting down numbers from their day’s catch and snail-mailing damp, smudged notes to the state where paper piles up, waiting to be entered into a database with thousands of others. Not exactly error-proof, but this is the method we’ve relied on for information about which fish are being caught when, where, and in what amount. And it’s problematic for many reasons, including food safety and sustainability.
“Imagine managing an industry based upon data that is a year old, or older,” said Marine and Coast Director Jena Carter. “Sometimes the data is also inaccurate or unusable. One accidentally transposed number and the fisherman may appear to be ocean fishing 300 miles inland.”
The answer, Jena and team believe, lies in digital record-keeping and the creation of an electronic fish-tracking database. Modernizing this method of data collection would allow transparency into the industry and help ensure that Dungeness crab and other seafood meet the highest standards of sustainability and quality. More than 246 million pounds of Oregon fish and shellfish is caught and consumed both locally and globally every year--knowing exactly where it’s caught, how it’s processed, and how it’s brought to market is critical conservation work.
Modernizing data collection is just one way the Conservancy is helping improve Oregon fisheries. Working collaboratively with industry leaders, our Marine team is also designing innovative fishing gear that eliminates bycatch of non-target fish species. Most recently, that meant working with a group of several fishermen to design a new type of fishing gear. Leveraging their combined decades of experience on the water, participants shared, listened, and sketched ideas and options. The goal—to create a tool for fishermen on the West Coast to catch lingcod, a desirable and abundant target species, while allowing depleted species living in the same waters, such as yellow-eyed rockfish, to easily escape. The result would be a win for both conservation and coastal communities.
“There is so much to be learned by working directly with fishermen—they’re the ones who know species behavior and the oceans best,” says Gway Kirchner, Marine Fisheries Project Director for The Nature Conservancy in Oregon. “It’s exciting to work together to create something that creates lasting benefits for fisheries and fishermen.