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OREGON's CRAB project is currently looking for ways to improve the long-term sustainability of the state's Dungeness crab fishery while building relationships with the fishing industry and local community.
The organisation, which stands for Collaborative Research to Assess Bycatch, is funded by NOAA Fisheries' Bycatch Reduction Engineering Program and the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission. Researcher Noelle Yochum from Oregon State University is collaborating with local commercial and recreational fishermen to tag female and small male crabs that are caught and thrown back because, by Oregon law, they cannot be sold. Through this research, Noelle hopes to capture estimates of survival rates for these crabs along with an understanding of potential ways to increase survival.

For this research, Noelle is collaborating with Dr David Sampson from Oregon State University, along with scientists from NOAA's Alaska Fisheries Science Center, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Sea Grant. In addition, getting to know the local fishermen was an important first step in her research. Noelle could often be seen walking the docks and attending local events to build her reputation as a trusted collaborator. She learned about Dungeness crab and the fishery from local fishermen—knowledge that was important to her study design. As a result of these relationships, both commercial and recreational fishermen are now welcoming Noelle onto their boats to collect data. Although this data could be collected independently on a research vessel, working directly with fishermen provides an invaluable perspective on the day-to-day operations of the fishery while also building important relationships.

To collect data, after crabs are caught Noelle evaluates those intended for discard by testing their reflexes and responses to different stimuli. Based on a methodology called the Reflex Action Mortality Predictor (RAMP), Noelle can use those reflex responses to estimate the crabs' expected survival. The crabs are then taken to a laboratory where they are monitored to track actual survival rates. To confirm these estimates, additional crabs are tested, tagged, and thrown back. When a tagged crab is caught and the tag returned, the data on the tag provide information on how the crab fared once returned to the water. Comparing the results of both methods helps validate the accuracy of the RAMP methodology and provides better estimates of expected survival rates.

Outreach is essential for ensuring the local community knows how to return the tags. To spread the word, Noelle created a project website, posted to online forums, sent targeted mailings to permit holders and processors, posted flyers, attended local meetings, and created program branded giveaway items. As an incentive to return tags, Noelle offers a reward—$20, a t-shirt, or a hat—and an entry into a cash prize raffle for every tag returned. Utilizing these outreach methods and incentives, Noelle hopes to far exceed the typical 2-4 per cent tag return rate. The more tags returned, the more data available to support her research.

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