OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

scientific research and advances

Excess vitamin E intake not a health concern

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Despite concerns that have been expressed about possible health risks from high intake of vitamin E, a new review concludes that biological mechanisms exist to routinely eliminate excess levels of the vitamin, and they make it almost impossible to take a harmful amount.

No level of vitamin E in the diet or from any normal use of supplements should be a concern, according to an expert from the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University. The review was just published in the Journal of Lipid Research.

“I believe that past studies which have alleged adverse consequences from vitamin E have misinterpreted the data,” said Maret Traber, an internationally recognized expert on this micronutrient and professor in the OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences.

“Taking too much vitamin E is not the real concern,” Traber said. “A much more important issue is that more than 90 percent of people in the U.S. have inadequate levels of vitamin E in their diet.”

Vitamin E is an antioxidant and a very important nutrient for proper function of many organs, nerves and muscles, and is also an anticoagulant that can reduce blood clotting. It can be found in oils, meat and some other foods, but is often consumed at inadequate dietary levels, especially with increasing emphasis on low-fat diets.

In the review of how vitamin E is metabolized, researchers have found that two major systems in the liver work to control the level of vitamin E in the body, and they routinely excrete excessive amounts. Very high intakes achieved with supplementation only succeed in doubling the tissue levels of vitamin E, which is not harmful.

“Toxic levels of vitamin E in the body simply do not occur,” Traber said. “Unlike some other fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A and D, it’s not possible for toxic levels of vitamin E to accumulate in the liver or other tissues.”

Vitamin E, because of its interaction with vitamin K, can cause some increase in bleeding, research has shown. But no research has found this poses a health risk.

On the other hand, vitamin E performs many critical roles in optimum health. It protects polyunsaturated fatty acids from oxidizing, may help protect other essential lipids, and has been studied for possible value in many degenerative diseases. Higher than normal intake levels may be needed for some people who have certain health problems, and smoking has also been shown to deplete vitamin E levels.

Traber said she recommends taking a daily multivitamin that has the full RDA of vitamin E, along with consuming a healthy and balanced diet.

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Maret Traber, 541-737-7977

Co-Q10 deficiency may relate to statin drugs, diabetes risk

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A laboratory study has shown for the first time that coenzyme Q10 offsets cellular changes that may be linked to a side-effect of some statin drugs - an increased risk of adult-onset diabetes.

Statins are some of the most widely prescribed drugs in the world, able to reduce LDL, or “bad” cholesterol levels, and the risk of heart attacks or other cardiovascular events. However, their role in raising the risk of diabetes has only been observed and studied in recent years.

The possibility of thousands of statin-induced diabetics is a growing concern, and led last year to new labeling and warnings by the Food and Drug Administration about the drugs, especially when taken at higher dosage levels.

The findings of the new research were published as a rapid communication in Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders, and offer another clue to a possible causative mechanism of this problem.

Pharmacy researchers at Oregon State University who authored the study said the findings were made only in laboratory analysis of cells, and more work needs to be done with animal and ultimately human studies before recommending the use of coenzyme Q10 to help address this concern.

“A number of large, randomized clinical trials have now shown that use of statins can increase the risk of developing type-2 diabetes by about 9 percent,” said Matthew K. Ito, an OSU professor of pharmacy and president-elect of the National Lipid Association.

“This is fairly serious, especially if you are in the large group of patients who have not yet had a cardiovascular event, but just take statin drugs to lower your risks of heart disease,” Ito said.

A suspect in this issue has been altered levels of a protein called GLUT4, which is part of the cellular response mechanism, along with insulin, that helps to control blood sugar levels. A reduced expression of GLUT4 contributes to insulin resistance and the onset of type-2 diabetes, and can be caused by the use of some statin drugs.

The statins that reduce cholesterol production also reduce levels of coenzyme Q10, research has shown. Coenzyme Q10 is needed in cells to help create energy and perform other important functions. And this study showed in laboratory analysis that if coenzyme Q10 is supplemented to cells, it prevents the reduction in GLUT4 induced by the statins.

Not all statin drugs, however, appear to cause a reduction in GLUT4.

The problems were found with one statin, simvastatin, that is “lipophilic,” which means it can more easily move through the cell membrane. Some of the most commonly used statins are lipophilic, including simvastatin, atorvastatin, and lovastatin. All of these statins are now available as generic drugs, and high dosage levels have been most often linked with the increase in diabetes.

Tests in the new study done with a “hydrophilic” statin, in this case pravastatin, did not cause reduced levels of GLUT4. Pravastatin is also available as a generic drug.

“The concern about increasing levels of diabetes is important,” Ito said. “We need to better understand why this is happening. There’s no doubt that statins can reduce cardiovascular events, from 25-45 percent, and are very valuable drugs in the battle against heart disease. It would be significant if it turns out that use of coenzyme Q10 can help offset the concerns about statin use and diabetes.”

Before that conclusion can be reached, the researchers said, additional studies are needed on coenzyme Q10 supplementation and the pathogenesis of statin-induced diabetes.

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Matthew K. Ito, 503-494-3657

Remote-controlled aircraft to fly near Hermiston for potato research

HERMISTON, Ore. – Two small, remote-controlled aircraft are expected to start flying over potato fields in the Hermiston area this month as part of Oregon State University's efforts to help farmers more efficiently use water, fertilizers and pesticides to bolster yields and cut costs.

While taking photographs, the aircraft will fly over 50 acres of OSU's 300-acre Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center (HAREC), as well as several crop circles totaling about 1,000 acres at a research cooperative farm west of Boardman. The flights will take place at least three times a week until the potatoes are harvested in the fall, beginning with a test run Wednesday at the Boardman farm.

OSU researchers will use various cameras on the aircraft to photograph the potato plants. The cameras will include ones that detect different wavelengths of light. One of these wavelengths, infrared, is reflected by plants, but unhealthy plants reflect less of it, and in infrared photographs sick plants are much darker. Researchers will also explore using other wavelengths of light to determine which ones will be most helpful in identifying troubled plants.

Researchers aim to see if the cameras, which are capable of zooming in on a leaf, can detect plants that aren't getting enough fertilizer and water. They'll purposely reduce irrigation and fertilizer on some plants and will then see how quickly, if at all, the equipment detects the stressed plants. If it works, the scientists hope that the project will continue in subsequent years so they can test the cameras to also find plants that are plagued by insects and diseases. The idea is to help farmers take action before larger crop losses occur and it becomes more difficult and expensive to control the problem.

"The key is to pick up plants that are just beginning to show stress so you can find a solution quickly, so the grower doesn’t have any reduced yield or quality issues," said Phil Hamm, the director of HAREC. "This in turn can save money. It's an early warning system for plants with issues as well as an opportunity for growers to reduce costs by being more efficient in water and fertilizer use."

Potatoes were chosen as the focus of the research because they're a high-valued crop, expensive to raise and must be carefully managed to reduce internal and external blemishes and irregular growth spurts, said Don Horneck, an agronomist with the OSU Extension Service. One of Oregon's leading crops, the state's farmers sold $173 million of potatoes in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But spuds are prone to devastating problems caused by diseases and insects, said Horneck, who is the lead researcher from OSU on the project.

"They are one of the most difficult and expensive crops to grow," he said, adding that it typically costs Hermiston farmers $4,000 or more per acre to grow them. That equates to about $500,000 for the average size of field in the area.

OSU hopes that the aircraft it tests will reduce these costs. The aircraft that will fly over OSU's land is called a HawkEye and is sold by a company called Tetracam. About the size of a suitcase and weighing only 8 pounds, its maximum flight time is 10-30 minutes. The hull-less, battery-operated machine is easy to operate and was made for farmers with plots of land that are less than one square mile. A motor and propeller allow it to take off on four wheels. A parachute keeps it in the air. Photos and videos of it are at http://bit.ly/10LDbjt.

A delta-winged aircraft made of plastic foam will fly over the private farm. Made by Procerus Technologies and called a Unicorn, it has a wingspan of no more than 6 feet and weighs less than 6 pounds. A bungee cord launches it like a slingshot. A factsheet on it is at http://bit.ly/XTqioS.

OSU is inviting the public to see the HawkEye fly during its potato field day at its Hermiston research center on June 26.

Allaying concerns about privacy, Hamm said, "These unmanned aircraft are for agricultural research only and will be used to do nothing more than that. This is about helping our local growers do a better job of growing crops, something HAREC has been doing for the past 102 years."

The Federal Aviation Administration has authorized the flights of the aircraft, which aren't allowed to fly higher than 400 feet and must stay within sight of the operator, typically less than a mile away.

OSU is leasing the aircraft from Boeing Research & Technology. n-Link, an information technology firm in Bend, is also a partner in the project. Ray Hunt, a plant physiologist with the USDA in Beltsville, Md., will collaborate with OSU's Horneck on the data analysis.

OSU aims to become one of the nation's premiere universities using unmanned aircraft for research. It is using or has plans to use them in studies on natural resources, wildlife, land-use management, forestry, oceanography and engineering.

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Phil Hamm, 541-567-8321

Invention could make spent nuclear fuel useful for irradiation purposes

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A researcher at Oregon State University has invented a way to use spent nuclear fuel to produce the gamma rays needed to irradiate medical supplies, food and other products – an advance that could change what is now a costly waste disposal concern into a valued commodity.

The technology, if widely implemented, might allow each of the 104 nuclear reactors in the United States to create a revenue stream of $10 million a year while providing thousands of new jobs. And by lowering the cost of irradiation, it could become commercially feasible for a wider range of uses.

A provisional patent has been issued on the technology, and commercialization efforts are under way through a private company, G-Demption LLC, created for that purpose.

“This is essentially a way to re-use spent nuclear fuel for a valuable purpose,” said Russell Goff, a masters student in the OSU Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Health Physics. “Until now no one really thought to do this. But this approach is safe, practical and economical. Instead of treating all nuclear waste as a disposal problem, we could be putting much of it to good use.”

Irradiation is a growing industry, and is commonly used in the sterilization of medical supplies such as bandages or syringes. It’s also widely approved for helping to preserve foods – many spices, and some fruits and meat products are irradiated. The use of gamma radiation for these purposes does not make the underlying product radioactive, and generally has no effects on it that are any more pronounced than other sterilization or preservation technologies.

However, the gamma ray sterilization industry is constrained by the need for cobalt 60, the radioactive isotope most commonly used.

“The U.S. already uses about half of the world’s supply of cobalt 60 for various types of irradiation, and the process can be expensive,” Goff said. “The new system we’ve created should be significantly less expensive, and as such could open the technology to more routine uses. We could double the world supply of gamma rays with this new technology and still won’t come close to meeting the market demand for this valuable resource.”

Sterile medical supplies are a huge market for gamma irradiation, Goff said, and increased used of irradiation could reduce the need for sterilization with ethylene oxide gas, which is a highly toxic and flammable gas.

The system Goff has invented adds another level of protection to prevent unwanted fission products from escaping the spent nuclear fuel and entering the environment, but allows gamma radiation to be released in a controlled manner for irradiation purposes. Because recently spent nuclear fuel – less than 12 years old - still has fairly intense levels of radiation, it provides an economical way to irradiate products.

The nuclear waste handling systems needed to use the new technology are similar to those already being used at nuclear power plants, he said, and the process of sterilizing the products is almost identical to processes used in the cobalt 60 irradiation industry today.

Aside from providing a commercial use for spent nuclear fuel, the approach would also reduce the significant expense of otherwise storing it, Goff noted. This system might also have special appeal in developing countries, where refrigeration and other approaches to preserving food, as well as access to sterile medical supplies, are not always readily available.

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Russell Goff
515-231-0736

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Pedestrians at serious risk when drivers are “permitted” to turn left

The report this story is based on is available online: http://bit.ly/kZJkWs

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A study to examine driver behavior in permitted left turns has identified what researchers call an “alarming” level of risk to pedestrians crossing the street – about 4-9 percent of the time, drivers don’t even bother to look and see if there are pedestrians in their way.

As opposed to a “protected” left turn, in which a solid green arrow gives a driver the complete right of way in a left-turn lane, a “permitted” left turn is often allowed by a confusing hodgepodge of signals, and drivers may have to pick their way through narrow windows of oncoming traffic.

This difficult driving maneuver, which is played out millions of times a day around the world, is fraught with risk for unwary pedestrians, who too often appear to be an afterthought.

 The danger is much higher than had been realized, experts say.

“There are far more pedestrian crashes in marked crosswalks than anywhere else on roads, and pedestrians already have a false sense of security,” said David Hurwitz, an assistant professor of transportation engineering at Oregon State University. “This study found that one key concern is permitted left turns.”

As they wait to turn left, sometimes taking a narrow opportunity to lunge into a stream of oncoming traffic, drivers focus most of their attention on the vehicular traffic and the traffic signal, rather than any pedestrians crossing the street, the research showed. The heavier the traffic, the less attention paid to pedestrians.

In a controlled analysis in a full-scale driving simulator that monitored specific eye movements, the engineers found that about one time in 10 or 20, the driver didn’t even look to see if a pedestrian was there before moving into the intersection. This suggests a major level of risk to pedestrians, researchers said, if they assume that drivers not only will look for them, but will allow them to cross the street.

The problem is aggravated by “permitted” left turn signals that vary widely, from state to state and sometimes even from one city to the next. Such turns might be allowed by a circular green light, a flashing circular yellow light, a flashing circular red light, or even a flashing yellow arrow. More consistent national standards regarding the flashing yellow arrow were recommended as recently as 2009, but the process of upgrading signals across the nation takes time.

The danger is sufficiently high, the researchers concluded, that more states and cities should consider prohibiting permitted left turns while pedestrians are allowed to be in the crosswalk. In Washington County, Ore., traffic managers recently did just that, after receiving a high number of complaints about pedestrian-vehicle conflicts.

“In traffic management you always have multiple goals, which sometimes conflict,” Hurwitz said. “You want to move traffic as efficiently as possible, because there’s a cost to making vehicles wait. You use more fuel, increase emissions and waste people’s time. The permitted left turn can help with efficiency.

“But the safety of the traveling public is also critical,” he said. “Sometimes the goal of safety has to override the goal of efficiency, and we think this is one of those times.”

Also of some interest, the study found preliminary evidence to suggest that the currently-mandated type of signal, which uses four heads instead of three, offers no change in driver behavior. However, the cost to implement a four-head signal is about $800 more than retrofitting the three-head version, which is widely used around the nation. Many millions of dollars might be saved nationally by using the simpler signal.

The findings of these studies have been compiled in a report by OSU and Portland State University researchers to the Oregon Transportation Research and Education Consortium, which funded the research. They will also be presented this year at the Driving Assessment Conference in New York and the Western District ITE meeting in Arizona.

OSU has a sophisticated driving simulator research facility, which allows test subjects to see, experience and react to realistic driving experiences while scientists study their reactions and behavior. This study was done with 27 subjects experiencing 620 permitted left turn maneuvers.

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David Hurwitz, 541-737-9242

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Sexualization in media and toys focus of next Corvallis Science Pub

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Sex may sell everything from magazines to perfume, but the effects of pervasive sexuality in marketing and consumer products go far beyond the cash register. At the Corvallis Science Pub on April 8, two Oregon State University psychologists will discuss their research on the impacts of sexually explicit images on children and youth.

The Science Pub presentation begins at 6 p.m. at the Old World Deli, located at 341 S.W. Second St. in Corvallis. It is free and open to the public.

Elizabeth Daniels teaches at OSU-Cascades in Bend and has surveyed middle and high school-aged boys and girls about their reactions to images of athletes. Aurora Sherman has worked with young girls to understand how such toys as Barbie, Bratz and Mrs. Potato Head dolls influence the girls’ self-image.

Daniels and Sherman suggest that it takes media savvy and strong role models to promote healthy development in the face of what the American Psychological Association calls “the massive exposure to portrayals that sexualize women and girls and teach girls that women are sexual objects.”

Sponsors of Science Pub include Terra magazine at OSU, the Downtown Corvallis Association and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.

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Aurora Sherman, 541-737-1361

Putting a human face on a product: when brand humanization goes wrong

CORVALLIS, Ore. – When companies put a human face on their brand, the public usually responds positively. This advertising approach has brought us alarm clocks with sleepy faces and color-coated chocolate candies with legs and arms.

But a new study, published online ahead of print in the Journal of Marketing, finds there is a greater backlash by the public when a product branded with human characteristics fails.

Lead author Marina Puzakova, an assistant professor of marketing at Oregon State University, said even though consumers can tell a camera designed with human characteristics such as little eyes and legs isn’t a person, the very act of humanizing a product can be a powerful tool.

“Somehow, now the product seems alive and mindful, and therefore can be perceived as having intentions and its own motivations to act in a certain way,” Puzakova said. “This perception of intentions can be extremely strong – consumers now see the brand as performing bad intentionally and therefore consumers develop more negative sentiments toward the brand.”

Puzakova conducted five experiments with products that had experienced negative publicity. As a general procedure, participants saw advertisements of both existing and fictitious products, where “human” characteristics, such as arms, legs, or facial-like features were manipulated. Then Puzakova showed participants news reports about how the product had failed in some way, not lived up to its advertising claim, or did not function based on consumer expectations.

In every instance, participants reported that they had stronger negative reactions to the products that were given human characteristics, also known as “brand anthropomorphization.”

“Brand anthropomorphization can be a very powerful advertising tool, so I am definitely not saying that companies shouldn’t use it,” Puzakova said. “However, they need to be aware that when they imbue their products with human-like characteristics, any backlash when something goes wrong could be stronger.”

Puzakova’s study found that the strength of negative reactions depended on consumer personality differences as well. Based on a personality test she gave participants, she found that people who believe in “personality stability,” or that personality traits are always the same and don’t change over time, tended to have stronger negative feelings towards anthropomorphized brands.

“Broadly speaking, men tend to believe in personality stability more than women, and seniors as well,” Puzakova said. “Also, some cultures tend to believe in this more than others. This can be important for advertisers to know, depending on who their target market is.

Having a deeper knowledge about their target markets, companies can also design their advertising communications tailored for different types of consumers. For example, marketers may want to emphasize flexibility and change in an ad campaign in order to reverse negative attitudes by male consumers, who tend to believe in personality stability.

Puzakova’s research also has a lesson for companies whose brands fail because of a product malfunction.

“As consumers who believe in stability of personality traits react to product failures more negatively, our research finds that companies need to provide either monetary compensation or give away coupons,” Puzakova said. “Offering a public apology is not enough. For instance, companies that have a humanized brand marketed heavily towards seniors may need to be prepared to generously compensate those consumers if something goes wrong.”

The bottom line, Puzakova said, is companies need to know their audience and the possible dangers of humanizing a brand when a product malfunctions. It can be a powerful advertising tool, but if the product fails in some way, the damage control could be costly and timely.

Hyokjin Kwak of Drexel University and Joseph Rocereto of Monmouth University contributed to this study.

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Marina Puzakova, 541-737-4297

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About Oregon State University:  As one of only two universities in the nation designated as a land, sea, space and sun grant, Oregon State serves Oregon and the world by working on today’s most pressing issues. Our more than 31,000 students come from across the globe, and our programs operate in every Oregon county. Oregon State receives more research funding than all of the state’s comprehensive public universities combined. At our campuses in Corvallis, Bend and Newport, and through our award-winning Ecampus, we excel at shaping today’s students into tomorrow’s leaders.

New system to restore wetlands could reduce massive floods, aid crops

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Engineers at Oregon State University have developed a new interactive planning tool to create networks of small wetlands in Midwest farmlands, which could help the region prevent massive spring floods and also retain water and mitigate droughts in a warming climate.

The planning approach, which is being developed and tested in a crop-dominated watershed near Indianapolis, is designed to identify the small areas best suited to wetland development, optimize their location and size, and restore a significant portion of the region’s historic water storage ability by using only a small fraction of its land.

Using this approach, the researchers found they could capture the runoff from 29 percent of a watershed using only 1.5 percent of the entire area.

The findings were published in Ecological Engineering, a professional journal, and a website is now available at http://wrestore.iupui.edu/ that allows users to apply the principles to their own land.

The need for new approaches to assist farmers and agencies to work together and use science-based methods is becoming critical, experts say. Massive floods and summer droughts have become more common and intense in the Midwest because of climate change and decades of land management that drains water rapidly into rivers via tile drains.

“The lands of the Midwest, which is one of the great food producing areas of the world, now bear little resemblance to their historic form, which included millions of acres of small lakes and wetlands that have now been drained,” said Meghna Babbar-Sebens, an assistant professor of civil and construction engineering at Oregon State. “Agriculture, deforestation, urbanization and residential development have all played a role.

“We have to find some way to retain and slowly release water, both to use it for crops and to prevent flooding,” Babbar-Sebens said. “There’s a place for dams and reservoirs but they won’t solve everything. With increases in runoff, what was once thought to be a 100-year flood event is now happening more often.

“Historically, wetlands in Indiana and other Midwestern states were great at intercepting large runoff events and slowing down the flows,” she said. “But Indiana has lost more than 85 percent of the wetlands it had prior to European settlement.”

An equally critical problem is what appears to be increasing frequency of summer drought, she said, which may offer a solid motivation for the region’s farmers to become involved. The problem is not just catastrophic downstream flooding in the spring, but also the loss of water and soil moisture in the summer that can be desperately needed in dry years.

The solution to both issues, scientists say, is to “re-naturalize” the hydrology of a large section of the United States. Working toward this goal was a research team from Oregon State University, Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis, the Wetlands Institute in New Jersey, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. They used engineering principles, historic analysis and computer simulations to optimize the effectiveness of any land use changes, so that minimal land use alteration would offer farmers and landowners a maximum of benefits.

In the Midwest, many farmers growing corn, soybeans and other crops have placed “tiles” under their fields to rapidly drain water into streams, which dries the soil and allows for earlier planting. Unfortunately, it also concentrates pollutants, increases flooding and leaves the land drier during the summer. Without adequate rain, complete crop losses can occur.

Experts have also identified alternate ways to help, including the use of winter cover crops and grass waterways that help retain and more slowly release water. And the new computer systems can identify the best places for all of these approaches to be used.

The work has been supported by the Indiana State Department of Agriculture and the National Science Foundation.

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Meghna Babbar-Sebens, 541-737-8536

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Newport researchers seek to reduce bycatch in groundfish trawling

NEWPORT, Ore. – Researchers working with the groundfish fishing industry in the Pacific Northwest have tested a new “flexible sorting grid excluder” – a type of bycatch reduction device that shows promise to significantly reduce the incidental bycatch of Pacific halibut from commercial bottom trawl fishermen.

In a series of tests that included 30 tows off the Washington coast, commercial fishermen were able to reduce the number of halibut taken as bycatch by 57 percent, while retaining 84 percent of the targeted groundfishes, according to Mark Lomeli of the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, an organization that helps resource agencies and the fishing industry sustainably manage Pacific Ocean resources.

The findings are being published in the journal Fisheries Research.

Incidental bycatch is a significant issue in many coastal regions including the Pacific Northwest. It occurs when fishing operations result in the discard of non-targeted fish and invertebrates, or through accidental interactions with mammals, seabirds and sea turtles. It is of particular concern, resource managers say, when these “bycaught” species are overfished, threatened or endangered.

The halibut project is the latest success in a series of bycatch reduction projects conducted through a collaboration between NOAA Fisheries and the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission. These projects have captured the interest of the fishing industry, according to Waldo Wakefield of NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center, a principal investigator on the project and co-author on the article.

“Fishermen are really engaged in the research because they are concerned about getting shut down if the weight of the halibut bycatch approaches a certain threshold,” said Wakefield, who works out of Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Ore. “The fishermen are not only engaged with the scientists, but they interact with each other and with the net-makers.

“In addition to the reality of being shut down, there is a perception issue,” added Wakefield, who is a courtesy professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “They don’t want to unnecessarily be killing halibut, salmon and other species.”

The flexible sorting grid excluder uses two vertical sorting panels that sort fish by size as they progress back toward the codend, noted Lomeli, who was lead author on the Fisheries Research article. The concept to the design is that fish smaller than the grid openings will pass through and be retained, where fish greater than the grid openings – such as the halibut – will be excluded from the net via an exit ramp.

“The system is not perfect,” Lomeli said. “Smaller halibut will occasionally slip through and fishermen in the tests lost about 16 percent of the groundfish they were targeting.”

Nevertheless, the reduction of the halibut bycatch is significant and may be improved by further research.

“The benefit of this type of gear is that fishermen can use smaller or bigger grids depending on the size of the fish,” noted Lomeli, who also works out of OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport. “What works for one vessel may not work for another, and fishermen may want to adjust when they target different species. “

Bycatch has become a major issue, the researchers noted, especially since many of the fisheries have gone to a catch-share management system, which caps the number of fish individual fisherman can catch instead of the old system, which had a quota for the entire industry. As part of the new management system, observers are now aboard each fishing vessel to note the catch numbers and weight of both targeted fish and bycatch.

“If the fishermen start getting close to catching too many fish of the wrong species, they typically move, change gear or fish during a different time of the year,” said Wakefield, who is with the Fishery Resource Analysis and Monitoring Division of NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center.

Wakefield and Lomeli have been collaboratively conducting trawl selectivity studies in West Coast trawl fisheries. Their initial work began with the Pacific whiting industry at reducing Chinook salmon bycatch. In this work, a bycatch reduction device using an open escape window was developed that allowed strong-swimming Chinook to escape through the open window, while weak-swimming Pacific hake passed through to the codend.

They also worked with Bob Hannah and Stephen Jones of Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in helping the Oregon pink shrimp industry reduce habitat impacts and bycatch of eulachon, a small threatened species in the smelt family, by modifying components of the trawl net. The research team is continuing its work with shrimpers, developing new proposals to further decrease the bycatch of eulachon as well as juvenile rockfish.

The collaborative effort to reduce bycatch by NOAA, the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, ODFW, the fishing industry, net-makers and others is one reason Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center was established – and is considered one of the most unique marine research and education facilities in the world.  The bycatch issue is of such significance it will be a focus of Marine Science Day on April 13 at the Hatfield Marine Science Center.

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Waldo Wakefield, 541-867-0542