Back to the Future

A Look Back at 2015

At the start of the New Year, our team took a moment to reflect back on some of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) Marine Reserves Program’s accomplishments from 2015. With the help of our many partners in academia, the fishing industry, coastal communities and non-government organizations it proved to be a busy year. Check out some of the Program highlights from 2015 in ecological and human dimensions research, outreach, and community engagement by clicking on the above image.

Based on what we learned in 2015, our work continues to evolve and adapt. We will continue to ask questions about the ability of our research tools to generate robust, valid, and unbiased data and new research studies will be added over time. Our goal is to constantly seek to improve our scientific research, how we document and communicate our Program’s work, and to support a diversity of ways for folks to engage in marine reserves implementation.

A Look Forward to 2016

Here are some things to expect in 2016 from the ODFW Marine Reserves Program.

Vessel contracts: We are currently seeking bids for two vessel contracts. The contracts are for this year’s hook-and-line surveys at Cape Perpetua and Cascade Head. For more information or to download an application, please visit our website here.

Ecological monitoring report: You can expect to see another ecological monitoring report out this year, with information from all five marine reserve sites.

Human dimensions research reports: There will be several reports out in 2016, from specific human dimensions research projects that have been underway over the last couple of years.

New website: We will have a newly revamped Oregon Marine Reserves website this spring. The new website will make it easier for people to access information about Oregon’s marine reserve sites, the science being conducted, rules and boundary coordinates, ways to get involved, as well as reports and plans. Stay tuned …




Diving Into Our Living Laboratories

(Jan 13, 2016)

A team of wetsuit-clad divers sit on the edge of a boat adjusting their masks before splashing into the cold waters of the Pacific Ocean. These divers belong to a specialized scientific research team--and the marine reserves are their living laboratories. The team’s mission: to survey the shallow rocky reefs of Oregon’s marine reserves. This team is trained to collect data in an environment that is often challenging to work in.

SCUBA dive surveys are one of the four core tools used in the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (ODFW’s) monitoring of Oregon’s marine reserves. These dive surveys, unlike ODFW’s other core ecological monitoring tools (i.e. hook-and-line and underwater cameras), allow detailed sampling of marine organisms to be done in person--and there is nothing like firsthand observations of species and the marine environment. However, these firsthand observations are not always easy to obtain.

Scientific diving is a complex, task-intensive operation that requires advanced training and skill sets beyond your typical sport diving. Scientific divers are limited by their air supply and tasks must be accomplished within a finite timeframe while adhering to strict safety protocols. In addition, scientific divers must multi-task; juggling data collection with fundamental dive activities in cold, dark waters well below the surface. 

These scientific divers have been trained in using a well-established survey method, developed by the Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans (PISCO). The method includes collecting data on fish, invertebrates, and algal communities. The ODFW Marine Reserves Program, as well as other scientists along the U.S. west coast, are using this method to gather data that can be used to track changes in species size or abundance over time both inside and outside of marine reserve sites. These data also allows us to learn about relationships between marine communities and their habitats; key information for understanding Oregon’s nearshore environment and how Oregonians might best manage these resources for the future.

So, what makes Oregon’s Marine Reserves Scientific Dive Team special? First of all, all the divers are volunteers with scientific diving certifications. Second, they must pass a special training put on by ODFW and our partners at the Oregon Coast Aquarium, PISCO, and Oregon State University.

Interested in joining the Marine Reserves Scientific Dive Team?

The Marine Reserves Scientific Dive Team is currently looking for new members. For those interested, a free two-day training on the PISCO research methods will be offered in February 2016 at the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport. Divers must be a current AAUS scientific diver, own their own annually inspected SCUBA gear (including drysuit), attend both days of training and be comfortable diving in coastal Oregon conditions (low visibility, cold water, surge, etc.). If you’re interested in joining the February training, please email Doug Batson at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Exact dates of the February training will be determined soon.

Click on the above image to see video on training scientific divers to help monitor Oregon's marine reserve sites.



4,325 Fish in This Year’s Surveys

 (Nov 25, 2015)

Happy Thanksgiving! In honor of the upcoming holiday, the ODFW Marine Reserves Team would like to say thank you to all our highly skilled volunteer anglers, vessel captains, and crew that came out and assisted with this year’s hook-and-line surveys. We are happy to report that this year’s surveys were a huge success. We collected data on 4,325 fish (22 different species) from the Redfish Rocks, Cascade Head and Cape Falcon marine reserve sites. The biggest fish caught during the season was a 39 inch Lingcod and the smallest was a 5 inch Yellowtail Rockfish. 

We have pulled together some preliminary results in our end of the season ‘Fish On!’ hook-and-line survey volunteer newsletter, now available (click here). The newsletter highlights the diversity of species caught during this season’s hook-and-line survey work, and underscores the uniqueness of each marine reserve site. Plus, it gives a sneak peek into an upcoming comprehensive analysis of the Redfish Rocks Marine Reserve and Comparison Areas. With five years of monitoring data now collected at Redfish Rocks, we are conducting our first comprehensive analysis of the baseline conditions within the site. We will be working diligently on these analyses over the coming months. Look for our data discoveries in early 2016.

Be sure to check out the ‘Fish On!’ newsletter to learn more about this year’s hook-and-line surveys.



Scientists Learning from Commercial Fishermen

(Nov 19, 2015) 

At first glance, scientists and fishermen might seem to make strange partners. However, upon a second look you begin to see common interests and how this union offers unique opportunities to better study the ocean. Many of Oregon’s commercial fishermen have an in depth local knowledge of the nearshore ocean as well as expertise in operating vessels, different gear types, and even in building their own equipment. Sharing this information and expertise can help improve the scientific research on the resources they depend upon. 

Talking and listening to commercial fishermen is what led the ODFW Marine Reserves Program to initiate a pilot longline study this year. We partnered with Jeff Miles, a local fisherman out of Port Orford, Oregon to conduct the study. Jeff is the one who proposed we use longline gear as part of our monitoring, to better reflect the fish species commercially caught within (prior to closure) and around the Redfish Rocks Marine Reserve. He helped with the study design, gear modifications, and sampling for the project.

Longline fishing is a common commercial fishing practice in the area around the Redfish Rocks Marine Reserve. This technique uses a long line (hence, the gear’s name) with baited hooks attached. The line is dropped overboard and sits at the bottom of the ocean—specifically targeting the species that are difficult to catch with hook-and-line gear, but highly valued in the local “live fish” fishery based in Port Orford.


So, why do we want the data to reflect local commercially caught species?

Fish caught via longline comprise approximately one third of the total catch that comes into the nearby port of Port Orford. In order to track long-term changes from a fishing closure (i.e. a marine reserve), it’s important that we are sampling species that are commercially targeted in the region. Our team has been conducting hook-and-line surveys for five years at the Redfish Rocks Marine Reserve. The catch from hook-and-line efforts—both by the ODFW’s Marine Reserves Program and by the local commercial fishery—are dominated by Black Rockfish, Kelp Greenling and Lingcod. In contrast, bottom-dwelling species such as Cabezon and Quillback, Copper and China Rockfish species are better caught via longline.

With the help of Jeff and his crew, we’ve now completed the pilot study comparing hook-and-line and longline survey techniques. Our team has compared this information to what has been previously commercially caught in the area, to make sure we are gathering data on all species that might show changes over time.

This study highlights the importance of tailoring ecological monitoring in marine reserves to the commercial fishing activity in the area in order to capture the diversity of fish species and the long-term changes they may exhibit. Our team will continue to explore ways to supplement marine reserve monitoring efforts and tailor the monitoring to the unique attributes at each of Oregon’s five marine reserve sites.

This effort also underscores the importance of collaborative research between scientists and fishermen—both have valuable knowledge to contribute about study designs, fish, fisheries and Oregon’s bountiful nearshore waters. Together they can make a powerful team for better understanding our dynamic nearshore ocean ecosystem.

This video highlights the longline research, done by the ODFW Marine Reserves Program in partnership with local commercial fishermen in the Redfish Rocks Marine Reserve. Featured in the video are: Captain Jeff Miles, his fantastic crew, and his boat F/V Top Gun.


Why Study People’s Reactions to Change?

(Nov 5, 2015)

Let’s play a game. Would you be happier if you had financial wealth or perfect health? Or, how about a low paying job that you love, versus a high paying job that you hate? How does this affect your sense of personal well-being?

Reactions to change can be described as a number of different social and economic factors. The Marine Reserves Program’s Human Dimensions research project is measuring many of these factors. However, these don’t always paint the full picture. People are multifaceted and measures such as financial income aren’t the sole driver of well-being.  There are many other factors that come into play, such as relationships, a sense of purpose, freedom to express ideas and to decide how to live one’s life. If you’re not just measuring income or market value, how do you actually measure well-being? 

Turns out that it’s harder than you would think and not as straightforward as crunching financial data. But, if researchers can measure how we think about well-being, this would tell us a whole lot more about how individuals view their quality of life. 

This is one of the many facets that Dr. Tommy Swearingen, the lead scientist of the Marine Reserves Program’s Human Dimensions research project, is working on. One of his projects delves into the methodology to figuring out how to scientifically measure and quantify something as abstract as well-being. “This information is important because it assesses how people feel about their lives in a more holistic way. Our study investigates how aspects of life like family, job satisfaction, social relations and many other factors influence our perceptions of well-being,” explains Dr. Swearingen. 

Dr. Swearingen is partnering with Drs. Kreg Lindberg, Chris Wolsko and Elizabeth Marino at Oregon State University Cascades on a pilot project funded by Oregon Sea Grant with additional support from ODFW. The purpose of the study is to investigate if measures of well-being could be used to identify how people may respond to stressors in their lives. For example, how will well-being be impacted if there was a large-scale disaster like an earthquake or a regional economic downturn? Or, what about something on a much finer scale, such as the impact of a marine reserve on the well-being of a community?


Social scientists are able to measure impacts, both positive and negative, resulting from a spatial closure like a marine reserve on people’s sense of well-being. “Most importantly, this model is a tool that we can use to see how policy changes impact different stakeholder groups,” explained Dr. Swearingen. This research could be used to help inform many different policy decisions, and has the potential for broad application in marine resource management and beyond.  

The pilot phase of the project was recently completed, and the plan is to expand this groundbreaking work to a large scale study in the near future. We’ll keep you posted as this research continues.


Using Acoustics to See

(Oct 29, 2015)

The oceans cover 70 percent of the earth’s surface, and it is fairly tough to know what lies beneath -- let alone determine the number of fish that live there. So, researchers use numerous techniques to try and get an idea of what lives below the surface. 

Hook and line, trawl, video and SCUBA surveys are all ways of sampling fish. Combinations of these techniques are used in various places along the West Coast of North America to survey fish. Most of these techniques tend to target species that live closer to the bottom. But what about the species that live higher up in the water column? That’s the question that has plagued West Coast fish scientists. Compounding the issue is that many of the largest West Coast data gathering efforts on fish are done using trawls -- which not only are extractive, but are unable to be used in shallow, nearshore rocky habitats where many of Oregon’s fish live. 

Acoustic surveys may offer a solution to the challenges of sampling mid-water fish species in these shallow, rocky habitats. Last week Marine Reserves staff, along with some of our other colleagues at ODFW’s Marine Resources Program, had the opportunity to take a class on this research technique. 

Acoustics is the science of sound. Fisheries acoustics works by using sophisticated sonar equipment to transmit pulses of sound into the water and these sound waves reflect off objects, such as fish or the bottom of the ocean. Fish finders have been around for a long time and work well to help fishermen locate fish. However, using sonar to quantitatively count fish or measure fish biomass in a precise and consistent fashion is challenging. Recent advancements in precise and affordable sonar equipment, and data processing software, provide powerful tools for fisheries research. Most importantly, this non-extractive research technique may allow researchers to count mid-water fishes in rocky nearshore habitats. The Marine Reserves team is excited to explore how this research might be integrated into existing marine reserves monitoring.

ODFW’s Marine Resources Program is currently using acoustics in several projects, including: developing nearshore rockfish surveys; assessing herring populations; and mapping bottom habitats and bathymetry (water depths) in Oregon’s nearshore ocean and estuaries. 

Fisheries acoustics works by transmitting sound pulses. Researchers read the pulses in the form of an echogram (shown at top). Echograms show schools of fish (green and yellow blob) and also the seafloor (red and yellow band of color). This type of research can be used to inform fisheries science, along with habitat and bathymetric science. 



Sea Stars Observed after Massive Epidemic

(Oct 22, 2015)

In 2014, the Pacific Coast of North America was hit by a mysterious epidemic that wiped out millions of sea stars, marking the largest marine animal disease event in recorded history. The disease caused these organisms to physically waste-away — hence its name; sea star wasting disease.

Looming questions researchers are trying to answer include: Do environmental conditions trigger the disease? Will sea stars recover? Will other environmental stressors, such as ocean acidification, impact sea star recovery?

Working to help answer these questions is Jenna Sullivan, a PhD student at Oregon State University in Dr. Bruce Menge’s lab. Her research is integral to understanding population-level impacts resulting from sea star wasting disease and in helping understand another major marine issue — ocean acidification. ODFW’s Marine Reserves Program is helping to support Jenna’s research.

Jenna’s research includes working in and around the Cape Perpetua Marine Reserve. “The support provided by the Marine Reserves Program is integral to my continued ocean acidification research,” she explains. We are only in the infancy of understanding the impacts that changing ocean conditions—such as lower pH levels—have on marine organisms. Meanwhile, Jenna’s work is giving us a glimpse of how sea star populations are currently doing.

So, how are the sea stars doing?

“The stars are back! At most of the sites our lab monitors along the Oregon Coast — at Cape Perpetua, Cape Foulweather and Cape Blanco — sea star density is actually higher now than it was before sea star wasting disease hit,” explains Jenna. She explains that, “… if you go out on the intertidal rocks, you probably won’t see many unless you know where to look. The high population numbers are actually from a record number of baby sea stars in the intertidal.” Scientists refer to these small, baby sea stars as recruits. “Depending on the site, density of sea star recruits (those smaller than about the size of a penny) is between about 5 and 200 times higher than it was in 2014.”

Jenna cautions that, “we still aren’t sure what is driving this pattern, and recruitment is patchy across sites. We also don’t know how these new recruits will fare as they mature in the context of sea star wasting. Currently, symptoms of wasting are still present at all of our sites but at low percentages (mostly below 10%). We will keep tracking population and disease dynamics throughout the winter and hopefully follow this cohort of new recruits as they mature.”


I’ve Seen This Fish Before: Recapture of Tagged Fish

(Oct 15, 2015)

Three charter boats, 19 days at-sea, and over 2,500 fish sampled during our hook-and-line surveys across three marine reserve sites has made for a productive fall field season thus far. The ODFW Marine Reserves Program’s three ecological research scientists have been busy, often conducting surveys at multiple marine reserve sites simultaneously in an effort to take advantage of fall weather windows. While some of our surveys will continue through October we’ve wrapped up the hook-and-line surveys for the year, ending on a high note; during our last few days of hook-and-line surveys at Redfish Rock Marine Reserve we recaptured two fish that had been previously tagged during our spring field season.


While catching two tagged fish doesn’t seem like a big deal—it is actually a rare occurrence in wild populations. Why? The odds of catching previously tagged fish are extremely small as there are, literally, many fish in the sea. These two recaptures provide us with important information about post-release survival. These fish were originally caught, measured for size, tagged, and then released during a pilot study using experimental longline gear. We worked in collaboration with experienced fishing captain Jeff Miles, who you might hear referred to by locals as the resident Redfish Rocks expert, off his commercial fishing vessel ‘Top Gun’ out of Port Orford. The pilot study compares fish composition, size, and abundance resulting from different fishing survey techniques. Last week’s recaptures—a black rockfish and a lingcod—show that these two species survived being caught on a longline, tagged by our team, and then released. We were also very interested to see that the lingcod and the black rockfish were both originally tagged and also recaptured within the marine reserve boundaries.

Other highlights from this year’s hook-and-line surveys include collecting data on a good diversity of fishes. “Thanks to all of our skilled volunteer anglers we were able to see a high diversity of fish during this fall’s hook-and-line surveys. We saw tiger, vermilion, and quillback rockfish among other species. This information really helps us because we have little data on these solitary species with small home ranges that may be the most likely to benefit from reserve protections,” explains Jessica Watson, a research scientist who works jointly with our team and Oregon State University-Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans. 

Now that the 2015 hook-and-line surveys are completed, staff are focusing on the analysis of this dataset. We’ll be compiling this year’s survey results into a newsletter for our volunteer anglers, captains, and the public. Look for the hook-and-line newsletter on the Oregon Marine Reserves website this November.



No Floaters: Keeping Barotrauma at Bay

(Sep 30, 2015)

“Fish on!” exclaims a volunteer angler as her fishing pole bends deeply over the side of the boat. Slowly, a brightly colored rockfish is gently reeled up to the surface. These fish are collected, and then released, in order to obtain important biological data as part of ODFW’s ecological monitoring of marine reserves.

However, this particular rockfish looked more like an alien than a fish with its bulging, popped-out eyes and esophagus protruding out of its mouth. The reason? A condition known as barotrauma.

Barotrauma is caused by gasses expanding in a fish’s swim bladder. When the fish is reeled to the surface from deep ocean depths, the swim bladder begins to expand as the surrounding water pressure decreases. This expanded swim bladder often displaces the fish’s internal organs which can result in the tell-tale bulging-eyes or extruding esophagus, or sometimes in less obvious signs that are not readily visible. Fish that have experienced barotrauma aren’t always able to swim back down on their own and may float on the surface when they are released by the angler. Without intervention, these fish may die.

“Many rockfish species are long-lived and may not begin to reproduce until they are 10-20 years old. So, a big fish might still be a teenager,” explains Dr. Brittany Huntington, the lead research scientist with ODFW’s Marine Reserves Program. So, these big fish that succumb to barotrauma after being caught may not have even been around long enough to have reproduced yet.

Bob Hannah, a research scientist at the ODFW Marine Resources Program, and his team have been conducting cutting-edge barotrauma research over the last half decade looking at the survival of different species of fish, caught at different depths. “We have good information on short-term survival, but we don’t know much about long-term survival. Plus, survival varies by species and by depth.” 

So, what are things anglers can do to help combat barotrauma?

“The best thing to do, when you can, is to avoid catching them in the first place,” says Bob. Fishing in shallower waters can also decrease the chances of fish developing barotrauma as they’re brought to the surface, due to less change in pressure. Another technique is returning the fish back to a depth which it can recompress at, via a fish descending device. The use of descending devices helps increase the chance of survival.


An important piece of descending devices is making sure people know how to use them. The Marine Reserves research team uses descending devices during their hook-and-line surveys, showing volunteer anglers how to use the devices and providing the volunteers with their own to take home with them for future fishing trips. Other measures the Marine Reserves research team takes to minimize occurrences and effects of barotrauma during hook-and-line surveys is only conducting surveys on shallower rocky reefs and only sampling enough of each fish species to be statistically significant, without having to catch more fish than necessary.

Back on the boat, the ODFW scientist quickly logs the fish’s length and weight, records the condition of the fish, and then immediately lowers it back down to the depth it was caught. This information will be used to track the incidences of barotrauma in shallow water areas, helping to shed more light on this important issue. 

Photo credits: Bob Hannah and Polly Rankin, ODFW

There’s More Beneath the Surface

(Sep 9, 2015)

Floating 100 feet above craggy underwater pinnacles, a video camera is dropped overboard into the ocean’s abyss with a splash. Bubbles and whitewash give way to bright blue-green colored water that gradually darkens as the camera sinks. On the ocean floor, fish schools come into focus, giving researchers a glimpse into this underwater world.

Water covers more than 70% of the earth’s surface, yet compared with our knowledge of terrestrial environments, oceans are relatively unfamiliar territory. This is why scientists are hard at work trying to unravel the complexities of the ocean, including scientists from the ODFW’s Marine Reserves Program. Long-term monitoring being conducted at Oregon’s five marine reserve sites is helping us learn more about marine reserve protections and about Oregon’s nearshore ocean.

The ecological monitoring efforts being used to study Oregon's five marine reserves are described in ODFW’s newly released, Marine Reserves Ecological Monitoring Plan. This Plan builds on and adapts ODFW’s monitoring efforts based on what’s been learned over the last 5+ years of marine reserves monitoring. You’ll find illustrations of the monitoring tools being used by ODFW and highlights of research collaborations with partners. Additionally, it contains individual monitoring plans for each of the five marine reserves to describe what makes each site unique. For example, did you know that the Cape Perpetua Marine Reserve and the surrounding area are the locale of long-term ocean acidification and hypoxia research? Or, that Redfish Rocks Marine Reserve is located just south of a major biogeographic break (Cape Blanco) making it’s ecology particularly unique? The unique features of each site influence which sampling tools and sampling intervals are best used for the long-term monitoring of the marine communities at each site.

You can download the Plan here on the Oregon Marine Reserves website (click on the photo to the right). We hope you’ll dive in to the new Ecological Monitoring Plan, and discover there’s more beneath the surface.


A Deep Water Species Visits the Reserves

Tracking the Path of Young Splitnose Rockfish

(Sep 3, 2015)

As the ODFW Marine Reserves Program’s Ecological Research Team pulled up their latest collection of juvenile fish samples at the Redfish Rocks Marine Reserve last Thursday, they received a huge surprise — a record breaking pulse of juvenile splitnose rockfish.

Like many rockfish species found off Oregon’s coast, splitnose are long lived (up to 103 years old!). They are caught in commercial fisheries in deeper waters, along the continental shelf and slope. Splitnose rockfish are of particular interest to the Marine Reserves team because they have a unique start to their lives. Their young recruit to shallower, nearshore waters such as in the Redfish Rocks Marine Reserve and school up around kelp—which is where the Marine Reserves team found them hanging out last Thursday.

Nearshore waters contain valuable nursery grounds important to many fish species, such as splitnose rockfish. As they grow, these young fish will move offshore into deeper waters. However, there are a lot of unknowns about when this happens.

Daniel Ottmann is an Oregon State University (OSU) graduate student who is trying to help answer that question. He is working with Drs. Su Sponagule and Kirsten Grorud-Colvert from OSU, and in collaboration with ODFW’s Marine Reserves Ecological Research Team, to research young rockfish.

“We are looking at when and where juvenile rockfish are recruiting on the coast,” explains Ottmann. “Little is known about what happens between the open oceans and when they recruit to a specific place.” For example, a marine reserve or a rocky reef.

One of the big questions that Ottman and the Marine Reserves team is trying to answer is—do juvenile rockfish disperse widely, or do they tend to stay together, or stay in one place? This is where genetics comes in handy—which is what Ottman is working on. “We are trying to find genetic siblings to see if they are staying together, until they are collected in our samples,” says Ottman.

So, why is it important to understand if young rockfish stay together? Because it is important to consider protecting areas that tend to receive high abundances of young rockfish, as well as areas where fish may spawn. Dr. Brittany Huntington of the Marine Reserves team explains, “If we understand source and sink dynamics at the larval scale we’d understand if we’ve placed reserves in areas that might benefit from those spatial dynamics. For example, it might be a good idea to place a reserve in a source, such as a spawning location.” 

Understanding where spawning areas and nursery grounds occur is important for determining how to best sustain fish populations for years to come.


New Fish Species in Oregon: Meet the Deacon Rockfish

(Aug 27, 2015)

The “Blue Rockfish” that are common to Oregon’s rocky reefs, and regularly observed in Oregon’s marine reserves, are actually two entirely distinct species: Blue Rockfish (Sebastes mystinus), and the newly described and named Deacon Rockfish (Sebastes diaconus). This discovery was made by a team of researchers from Oregon State University, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), and California State University Los Angeles. Their research demonstrated unique physical and genetic differences between these two species. Prior to his joining the ODFW Marine Reserves Program, Dr. Wolfe Wagman was a part of the team of researchers that identified this new species.

So how do you find a new species after millions of people, including fishermen and researchers, have seen these fish off of Oregon for many years?

“The first suggestion that something was amiss with Blue Rockfish identification stems from Oregon and California’s fish identification posters; the same species looked morphologically different on each,” explains Wolfe Wagman. This observation spurred the research that led to a new species designation.

There is little scientific information about this fairly common species, but the ODFW Marine Reserves Program is working to fill that gap. Currently we have one of the few research programs regularly collecting biological information on the Deacon Rockfish here in Oregon. This work can help scientists and managers better understand the status of Deacon Rockfish populations off of Oregon, helping improve management to ensure their populations remain sustainable for generations to come.

“Our research is integral to better understanding the community dynamics of species that occur both inside and outside the marine reserves, which includes Deacon Rockfish. This information is vital to enhancing our understanding of Oregon’s nearshore ocean,” says Dr. Brittany Huntington, our ecological research lead for the Marine Reserves Program.

In addition to research, the Marine Reserves Program is working to inform people about how to identify this new species.

“There is a lot of confusion because Blue and Deacon Rockfish look similar. To distinguish the two species, the best characteristics to look for are the difference in the body coloration and lower jaw length. Blue Rockfish are blue-green with heavy dark blotches on the sides and Deacon Rockfish are uniformly dark with small speckling across the sides of the fish. Additionally, Blue Rockfish have upper and lower jaws that meet together uniformly. Whereas, the Deacon Rockfish has a protruding lower jaw creating an underbite,” explains Wagman.

With the Fall field season launching this week, the Marine Reserves Program continues its efforts to collect data on Oregon’s nearshore habitats and species, including Deacon Rockfish. There’s plenty more to discover about our ocean ecosystems, so join us as we continue to dive in.

Hooking Scientists In: Sharing Research Ideas

(Aug 20, 2015)

This week, over 1,000 scientists and fellow fish folks from all over the country are “schooling” together at the annual meeting of the American Fisheries Society being held in Portland, Oregon. Attendees are sharing ideas and information on the management, conservation, and restoration of marine and freshwater fishes.

Representing the Marine Reserves Program, Jessica Watson is presenting her poster “Comparing the Performance of Three Sampling Tools for Assessing Fish Communities in Oregon’s Marine Reserves.” This is a study that compares our hook-and-line, video lander, and subtidal SCUBA surveys to evaluate each tool’s ability to collect data on fish. This study was conducted to help us refine our sampling tools for future monitoring, to ensure we’re collecting the best possible data.

Fish can be a challenge to study. Idea-swapping is an integral part of scientific research. By learning from others, scientists evolve and adapt research tools to produce the best possible data and information on fishes. We look forward to bringing back what we learn at this year’s American Fisheries Society meeting to help us in our continued evaluation and adaptation of research tools to best monitor Oregon’s marine reserves.


Welcome Onboard: New Member of the Marine Reserves Team

Welcome to Ashley Knight, who has joined our team as a Research Fellow. For the next six months she will be helping us with our ecological research, both in the field this fall and with data analysis. Before joining our team, Ashley was at California State University Monterey Bay where she worked on underwater video and dive surveys in California’s Marine Protected Areas. She was also a Naturalist and Undersea Specialist with National Geographic. Ashley has traveled to Alaska and Antarctica where she dove in waters as cold as 30 degrees. She brings experience in working with Marine Protected Areas as well as a sense of adventure.


Place an Order for Outreach Materials

(Aug 4, 2015)

The Oregon Marine Reserves Partnership (OMRP) has opened a distribution center for people to order brochures, FAQs, publications, and other outreach materials associated with Oregon’s marine reserves and protected areas. Materials include those developed by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, OMRP, and OMRP member organizations. To see materials available for ordering, visit the brochure page of the OMRP website.

Orders can be made in increments of 50 copies per publication. A full street address must be provided (OMRP cannot ship to PO boxes). Please allow a minimum of 10 days for delivery. Consider ordering the amount of brochures you anticipate you will need for a significant period of time to lessen the cost of shipping (OMRP is paying for shipping costs).

To place an order, please complete this online form.

If you have any questions about ordering materials, contact OMRP Coordinator Lisa DeBruyckere at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Updates From Our Summer Interns

(July 28, 2015)

During the week of July 12th a team of scientists from the University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC), with help from ODFW, set up sampling plots to monitor rocky intertidal habitats at the Otter Rock and Cascade Head marine reserve sites. Rocky intertidal habitats are located in the intertidal zone, a narrow band of shoreline that is covered by water during high tides and then exposed at low tides.

During a low tide, the team laid out a large grid over the habitat and then proceeded to count the number of mobile invertebrates and survey the organisms attached to the rocks under the grid lines. The team also monitored for sea star wasting disease.

These two reserve sites will be surveyed again every 4-5 years to evaluate changes occurring in the biological community. The sampling sites at the Otter Rock and Cascade Head marine reserves join a dataset formed from over 100 such intertidal sites between Alaska and Mexico, surveyed by the MARINe/PISCO team based out of UCSC.


While the intertidal zone at these two marine reserves are an ideal places to study rocky intertidal habitats and sea star wasting disease, they are also great places to capture the beauty of the Oregon Coast. Otter Rock Marine Reserve, which is located just north of Newport off of Highway 101, is a great place to experience tidepools and become familiar with the rocky intertidal species native to the Oregon Coast. These include different sea stars, anemones, mussels, and more. Walking along the beach will open up into Devils Punchbowl Natural Area, which is a hollow rock shaped by waves over time.

Further north is Cascade Head Marine Reserve, near Lincoln City off Highway 101. This reserve also has some rocky intertidal habitat near Road’s End, with many different species of marine organisms. This area also consists of large, extensive sandy beaches and an opportunity to hike three different trails with spectacular views from atop Cascade Head. All around, visiting these areas or other protected areas in Oregon will hopefully help to create a sense of awareness as well as understanding.


What’s New at Knight Park?

(Jul 23, 2015)

A new kiosk at Knight Park highlights recreation and conservation in and around Cascade Head and the Salmon River estuary. Knight Park is managed by Lincoln County Parks and is a popular destination along the Salmon River for fishing and outdoors enthusiasts, and is visited by over 1,000 school children each year.

The Salmon Drift Creek Watershed Council created the kiosk to share information with the Park’s visitors about the terrestrial, freshwater, and marine conservation measures in place in this area and to highlight fishing, wildlife viewing, and other opportunities for outdoor activities. Interns from Taft High School, working with the Watershed Council this summer, helped install the interpretive sign featured at the kiosk.

A special thank you to the ODFW Restoration and Enhancement program, for providing grant funds for the kiosk, and to Lincoln County Parks.


Updates From Our Summer Interns (July 23, 2015)

Something to be learned at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is that SMURFs are not little blue men. A Standard Monitoring Unit for the Recruitment of Reef Fishes, or SMURF, is a tool used to obtain information on the recruitment and spatial distribution of juvenile reef fishes.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is using SMURFs to monitor two marine reserves, Otter Rock and Redfish Rocks, and their comparison areas off the coast of Oregon. SMURFs are deployed at each location, including four in the reserve and four in a comparison area. Every two weeks, a team is sent out to retrieve and replace the SMURFs and to collect and analyze the fish caught in each SMURF.

On Monday, July 13th, a team from ODFW and the Oregon Coast Aquarium went out to both Otter Rock Marine Reserve and Cape Foulweather Comparison Area to collect SMURF units.  115 individual juvenile fish were collected and sent back to the lab for genetic analyses. This monitoring will allow ODFW and partnering scientists, in the long term, to better understand the role of fish settling into the marine reserves on the Oregon coast and how early life stages of fishes use nearshore habitats.


Studying the Effects of Sea Star Wasting (July 7, 2015)

An Ochre sea star found at Otter Rock Marine Reserve with wasting syndromeSea star wasting syndrome is a mysterious disease that has had a large effect on many sea star species along the west coast of the United States. This disease causes lesions and decaying of the sea star body, ultimately resulting in death. Many species of sea stars in both intertidal and subtidal areas off of the Oregon Coast are dying due to a recent disease outbreak. Because of an increase in disease, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is helping to monitor rocky intertidal and subtidal areas starting this summer. On July 2nd, a team from ODFW’s Marine Reserves Program went out to Otter Rock Marine Reserve and completed two different surveys on the density and disease severity of sea stars in the area. The same surveys were completed at Cascade Head Marine Reserve on July 6th. This effort will help to monitor the long term effects on sea star species and to understand the distribution of the disease along the Oregon coast.

To find out more about sea star wasting syndrome, visit:

ODFW intern Sara Reese measuring a sea star found at Otter Rock Marine Reserve


Science Workshop: What to Do When Science and Reality Clash in Marine Reserves Monitoring? (June 25, 2015)

Marine reserves are a relatively new management tool here in Oregon. Based on what we are learning, our scientific research is evolving and being adapted over time to produce the best possible data. So, what to do when science and reality clash in marine reserve monitoring?  That was the topic of discussion at a recent scientific workshop held by ODFW.

Challenges have arisen when implementing a BACI (Before-After-Control-Impact) sampling design at two of Oregon’s marine reserve sites. For Cape Perpetua, the main challenge is appropriate “control” sites possessing comparable habitats (e.g. deep, isolated reef) and oceanographic conditions (e.g. hypoxia, upwelling). For Cape Falcon, the fishing pressure for rocky reef associated species at that site prior to closure was relatively quite low.

The ODFW Marine Reserves Team held a workshop with marine science experts from Oregon State University, University of California Santa Cruz, and the Partnership for the Interdisciplinary Study of Coastal Oceans (PISCO) to brainstorm and get feedback on possible alternative ecological sampling designs for the Cape Perpetua and Cape Falcon sites.

A full summary of the workshop including participants, agenda, and findings can be found here: pdf Workshop: Moving Beyond BACI (2015) (289 KB)


Welcome to Summer Scholars (June 16, 2015)

A big welcome to Abby Fatland and Haley Epperly, our two Oregon Sea Grant Summer Scholars joining the ODFW Marine Reserves Program over the next 10 weeks. Abby and Haley will be working as part of our ecological and human dimensions research teams this summer. The Sea Grant Summer Scholar program places stellar undergraduate students with public agencies to provide real life experience and mentoring to students in the field of marine resource management. We’ll be sharing more about what Abby, Haley, and our research teams are up to throughout the summer so stay tuned.





OSU Opens New SCUBA Air Station in Port Orford (June 10, 2015)

Oregon State University (OSU) is now operating an air fill station to provide tank fills for SCUBA divers at the OSU Port Orford Field Station. The air fill station will initially support scientific divers conducting dive surveys as part of ODFW's ecological monitoring of the Redfish Rocks Marine Reserve. Air fills will be made available to certified recreational SCUBA divers later this year. This will make SCUBA diving in the area more accessible by providing a local source for filling air tanks.

OSU's Diving Safety Officer Kevin Buch is supervising the air fill station training and operation, and daily operations are being managed by Field Station Manager Tom Calvanese. Trained operators have already filled 11 tanks for OSU's Scientific Diving Program.

This project was made possible through a partnership between the Redfish Rocks Community Team, ODFW, OSU, Travel Oregon, and the Wild Rivers Coast Alliance.

Learning About Juvenile Fishes (June 2, 2015)

During field work conducted on May 20th at the Redfish Rocks site we collected several hundred baby fish, mainly cabezon, from our SMURF sampling devices. Every two weeks throughout the summer we are collecting baby fish samples from our SMURF devices set out at the Redfish Rocks and Otter Rock sites. This is part of a collaborative research study led by Oregon State University (OSU), to learn more about juvenile fishes. Scientists refer to these new fish settlers as recruits, since they are “recruiting” to the bottom for the first time.

One of the difficulties in studying recruits is it’s hard to identify one species from another. A baby fish can have different colors and body shape compared to its adult counterpart. For example, black rockfish and blue rockfish recruits are virtually identical while the adults have clearer differences in coloration. Think about how tough it is to match people you don’t know to a stack of baby photos from 30 years ago! To identify these recruits, scientists from OSU are focusing on key characteristics on the fins, mouth, and gills of each fish and using genetics to confirm identification when needed.

Thanks to Oregon Coast Aquarium divers, Erin and Doug, for collecting the samples and to Tom for the shoreside help processing these fish at the OSU Port Orford Field station. This week we’ll again be collecting baby fish samples at both Otter Rock and Redfish Rocks.



New Sampling Method: Longlining (May 20, 2015)

What is a longline? It is a type of commercial fishing gear that is not attached to the boat. It consists of a rope (ours are about 450 ft. long) with a weight at one end so the line stays on the ocean bottom and a float at the other. Off of the rope are short lengths of line with hooks (ours have 100 hooks per line).  We baited our hooks with squid (see above photo) and they were on the bottom for about 90 min. We set and retrieved a total of 5 lines per sampling day. Once we pull the lines in on the boat, each fish was identified to species, measured for fork length (the end of its tail), and given a tag in case of future capture outside of the reserve. The picture below is of Jessica tagging a Vermilion rockfish while it is on the measuring board. 



Currently, with our hook-and-line survey our catch is dominated by four species: Black and Blue Rockfish, Lingcod, and Kelp Greenling.  In an attempt to increase the catch of solitary, bottom dwelling species of rockfish such as Quillback, Copper, China, Vermilion, and Yelloweye; we initiated a long-line pilot study at Redfish Rocks Marine Reserve. The goals of this study are to compare the diversity of species caught from hook-and-line to long-line methods and to increase our fish size data for several of these other colored rockfish species.

In our first few days of the study we have been successful in sampling a wider variety of the colored species of rockfish.  We will complete the pilot study with two more trips, so stay tuned for more updates. 



 SMURF Moorings Helping Us Learn About Larval Fish (May 20, 2015)










What is a SMURF?  We are not talking about the cartoon characters.  Rather, SMURF stands for: Standard Monitoring Units for the Recruitment of Fishes.  They are basically mesh sacks anchored underwater with plastic loosely bundled up inside (the green part of the photo on the left).  Larval fish gather in the SMURF for protection and we collect it with a net (the red net the snorkeler is holding in the left photo) and count and measure the fish inside.  These passive aggregation devices help us determine what species of fish are present and when they are recruiting (settling) into the nearshore habitat.  In partnership with scientists at Oregon State University and the Oregon Coast Aquarium, our team will deploy and sample SMURF moorings this month at Otter Rock and Redfish Rocks Marine Reserves and track the recruitment of larval fishes until late September.

The photo on the right is in our garage with bundles of line gathered for the SMURFs. Christian is holding the flag and floats that stay above the water to alert boaters that here is an anchor below.   


Scientific Surveyors Dive Into Otter Rock Marine Reserve (March 9, 2015)

Volunteer scientific divers are practicing their survey skills in Otter Rock Marine Reserve this week.  Last month, the divers completed an intensive training and now they are honing their new skills.  Led by trained SCUBA divers from Oregon State University and the Oregon Coast Aquarium, our new crop of scientific divers are an enthusiastic and committed bunch.  We hope to use the calm weather over the coming weeks to continue training dives and surveys with the Mini-lander (shown in the picture between the divers) in the Otter Rock Marine Reserve. 
Our volunteer divers in the photo from left to right: Doug Batson, Erin Jaco, Lindy Hunter, and Kevin Buch



Marine Reserves Featured on Oregon Field Guide (March 4, 2015)

Oregon Field Guide produced a segment on rockfishes and marine reserves.  Dive into Oregon’s Marine Reserves and see the fish that could tell us if they make a difference.  The program can be found at:

Photo of a China Rockfish taken by Laura Tesler



Ecology Team Evaluates Using Baited Video Lander
(Feb. 27, 2015)

Preliminary study results look like baited mini-landers are the way to go in future sampling.  Although, we are still reviewing video to confirm these preliminary results, last week’s test suggest that using a bait bag attached to the video landers improves our ability to observe fish. To test this hypothesis, the Ecology team used two identical mini-landers, each carrying three GoPro cameras, (picture Brittany securing the cameras to the lander).  One lander was equipped with bait (a mix of herring and squid), while the other lander was equipped with an identical, but empty, bait bag.  Similar studies by other researchers show that using baited video cameras increases the sightings of fish


ODFW Boat Gets Some Work Done (Feb. 20, 2015)

Keith (pictured here) and some of the ODFW team did some preventative maintenance work on the hull (bottom) of the Shearwater. This work had the boat out of the water for about a month but, we are happy to announce the Shearwater's (and ecology team's) return to the water.  After other similarly made boats had some issues with leaks and wear on the aluminum bottom we removed our the foam lining and had some weak spots filled in to prevent further damage.

Shoreside Restriction Signs Installed at Cape Perpetua
(Jan. 12, 2015)

Cape Perpetua Sign at Cape Cove

Thanks to Brian with the USFS at Cape Perpetua, our new shore restriction signs have been installed.  These signs located at the Cape Cove Beach trail (far left) and tide pools trail will help raise awareness of marine reserves to visitors.  In the next few months these signs will be up at all major marine reserves access trails. 

For more information about the wonderful Cape Perpetua Visitors Center click here.   


 Harvest Restriction Signs Installed at Boat Ramps
(Jan. 9, 2015)

New Harvest Restriction signs have been installed at the Newport South Beach Marina (pictured left) at the top of the boat ramp.  As well as at Knight Park Boat Ramp (Salmon River) north of Lincoln City (pictured below).



Additional signs will be posted at the Depoe Bay Boat Ramp and Docks. 

For copies of the harvest restriction rule summaries for each reserve click here.







Ecology team presents some data at Western Society of Naturalist meeting  (Nov. 24, 2014)

Last weekend the Ecological Monitoring team headed to the Western Society of Naturalists meeting in Tacoma WA. This annual meeting brings together marine ecologists and fish scientists from the entire west coast. Jessica Watson, PISCO Science Integration Fellow working with ODFW, presented some of our video lander data we use to survey fish communities.  Dr. Brittany Huntington presented a poster outlining the trifecta study at Redfish Rocks and Cascade Head Marine Reserves. The trifecta study compares 3 different fish survey methods: Hook and Line, Video Lander, and SCUBA at the same time to determine which method collects the most reliable data.  Both presentations were well received, click here to download Brittany’s poster (1.31 MB).   



Volunteer Scuba Divers sharpen their fish sizing skills
(Nov. 10, 2014)

     The Marine Reserve Program’s team of volunteer scientific SCUBA divers hit the water last week for some practice dives at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. Using life-sized plastic fish cut-outs (pictured here) set up in an obstacle course divers tested their skills estimating fish lengths.  Training dives like this are important to ensure we get the most accurate measurements when surveying the marine reserves.  Divers estimated fish length accurately to within 1 cm. Great job divers and thanks to the Aquarium for letting us in their tank!  We hope to have them conduct fish surveys in Cape Falcon Marine Reserve later this month when we get a break in the weather.  


2014 End of the season Hook and Line Survey Newsletter is now out.  (Nov. 5, 2014)

The Marine Reserve Program has wrapped up the Hook and Line surveys for 2014. These fishing-for-science surveys were conducted during the spring and fall months in Cape Perpetua, Cascade Head, Redfish Rocks and Cape Falcon Marine Reserves.  Thanks to all our volunteer anglers and amazing captains and crews that helped us gather length and weight data on 5,729 fishes representing 26 species!
Click on the newsletter cover to download a copy of the newsletter.





First major winter storm keeps the Ecology team off the water.  (Oct. 24, 2014)

But that has only allowed us to get working on some of the data a little sooner than expected.  We are working on the Hook and Line end of season newsletter (preview of one of our great photos) and are reviewing the video from the trifecta study in Redfish Rocks.  The trifecta study is the methods comparison study where we did Hook and Line, Video Lander (using our new mini lander), and Scuba Surveys all in the same locations. 


Upcoming Marine Reserves Events

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Contact for Marine Reserves

ODFW is the lead on the Marine Reserves process.

Contact Us:
2040 SE Marine Science Dr.
Newport, OR 97365