Fixed Gear Marking and Entanglement Risk Reduction

Action status

  • Implemented
  • Undergoing NMFS Review
  • Approved by Council
  • Under development by the Council

Whale entanglement reports off the U.S. West Coast have increased since 2013 with humpback whales being the most common species entangled across all gear types and origins. Recent increases of entanglements in West Coast fisheries pose significant challenges for fisheries management because of the current difficulty to differentiate among gear types that could be the source of an entanglement. Better understanding of the origin (fishery and gear type) of entanglements could improve fishery managers’ ability to design effective entanglement risk reduction measures. 

In October 2020, NMFS finalized the Endangered Species Act (ESA) Section 7(a)(2) Biological Opinion – Continuing Operation of the Pacific Coast Groundfish Fishery (PCGF) (Reinitiation 2020) – Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) (2020 Humpback BiOp). While the proposed action was determined to not likely jeopardize the continued existence of the Mexico or Central America distinct population segments, the terms and conditions required NMFS in cooperation with the Council) to investigate methods and feasibility associated with implementing additional pot gear marking regulations for the groundfish fishery.  

A workshop titled “Improving Gear Marking in the U.S. West Coast Sablefish Pot Fishery” was held in November 2022 (Agenda Item F.3.a, NMFS Report 1, March 2023) At the March 2023 Council meeting, the PFMC reviewed the results and recommendations of the workshop.  NMFS Report 3 under that agenda item also included a recommendation to expand the scoping of gear marking for bottom longline (longline) gear based on the conservation recommendation from a final Concurrence Letter regarding the continued operation of the groundfish fishery and the effects of the fishery on Southern Resident killer whales. The Council then scheduled an agenda item to scope the development of gear marking requirements for all groundfish fixed gear (pot and longline) and entanglement risk reduction measures at the June 2023 Council meeting (Agenda Item F.3.a, NMFS Report 1, March 2023).   

In June 2023, the PFMC reviewed scoping documents related to fixed gear marking and provided the following guidance: 

  • Develop gear marking requirements holistically for all groundfish fixed gear sectors (limited entry fixed gear, directed open access, and gear switchers in the shorebased individual fishing quota program). 
  • Analyze a range of line marking requirements at 5, 20, and 50 fathoms (as the distance of vertical line beginning at the main surface buoy downward towards the groundline). 
  • Consider prohibiting marks required by other fisheries (e.g., Dungeness crab). 
  • Analyze different types of line marking methods such as unique colors of manufactured line, tape, paint, etc. 
  • If a unique manufactured line color scheme is required, consider a phased approach that could include temporary methods of gear marking (e.g., tape or paint) during the transition to manufactured line. 
  • Consider other surface gear marking concepts as described in NMFS Report 1
  • Look at changes to the position of biodegradable escape panels (required component of pot/trap gear) to not be on the bottom as described in NMFS Report 1. 
  • Consider other entanglement risk reduction measures. 

In September 2023, the PFMC adopted a purpose and need statement and range of alternatives for fixed gear marking and entanglement risk reduction. In March 2024, the Council: 

  1. modified the purpose and need to consider the benefits of entanglements from other fisheries not being attributed to the groundfish fishery; 
  1. modified the range of alternatives for line markings; 
  1. selected a preliminary preferred alternative (March 2024 Decision Summary Document

The Council is anticipated to select a final preferred alternative in June 2024.