Dungeness Crab Mortality Due to Derelict Pots

From the NW Straits June Newsletter

People at the Crab Mortality PresentationJeff June, Natural Resources Consultants, is the derelict fishing gear removal field manager for the Northwest Straits Foundation. Jeff presented results from the recent study of Dungeness crab mortality from derelict pots supported by the Stillaguamish Tribe and Northwest Straits Foundation.

Jeff reported that the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife estimates that 12,193 crab pots are lost each year in Puget Sound. Each lost crab pot without escape cord kills approximately 30 crabs each year until deterioration. Jeff provided several ways to prevent crab pot loss:

· Don’t fish in marine transit zones

· Weight your pots so they don’t move in high currents

· Make sure line is long enough for the depth you are fishing

· Use multiple floats in high current areas

· Don’t set pots too close together

· Always use escape cord – 120 thread count is regulation but a better rule of thumb is to use 1/8 inch diameter cord.

· Report lost pots

A recent change in regulations allows enforcement agents to ticket crabbers for transporting illegal pots on marine waters, instead of only ticketing for actively fishing illegal pots. Jeff explained that there are some areas of concentrated accumulation of crab pots that will be targeted for this enforcement.

Click here for a pdf copy of the presentation.

Astonishing Derelict Gear Project findings

I attended the NW Straits quarterly meeting in Port Townsend on Friday, and was able to stay to hear the presentation by Jeff June, who has led the research project on crab mortality rates because of lost crab pots, both commercial pots and sport pots. Jeff’s project, which is now headed to a peer review magazine process, shows that as many as 375,000 crabs might be being killed in Puget Sound and the Straits by lost crab pots. These pots, of which most of us who have crabbed have lost at one time or another, can continue to kill crabs and other sea life for up to and over 320 days! The findings were far worse than anyone imagined.
What’s to be done about this? The expected outcome of this study are:

  • Greater education of the public about proper use of crab pots.
  • Perhaps changes to the laws about crab pot use.
  • A likelyhood that crab pot makers can change the way the pots are made to breakdown under water faster.
  • A possible option to retrofit existing crab pots (would require manufacturers to come up with a retrofit kit).

If you use a crab pot, be sure to use proper rot cord, make sure the depth and currents won’t carry away your pot, and don’t put your pots in the middle of a heavily traversed boating lane. These seem to be some of the most common reasons for derelict gear.

You can read the education web site for proper use of escape cord (cotton instead of nylon) at: http://www.escapecord.org/

Additionally, Jeff reported on the drift net project, removing underwater nets that have been lost and continue to kill wildlife.  His teams have worked 68 days so far, and removed 92 nets. They hope to work 768 days total, and aim to remove between 2500 and 3000 known nets. Surveying underwater with side scan sonar and reports from fishermen have been responsible for mapping the locations of these nets.  One that was found was 1800′ long and stretched 100′ deep! Most nets are only a couple hundred feet in length.

Thanks to Jeff June and his staff for the great work! To read more about Derelict Gear, see this web site: http://www.derelictgear.org/

Since 2002, the Northwest Straits Initiative has removed more than 1,900 derelict crab pots, weighing over 48,000 pounds, and saving thousands of crabs from incidental death each year. 

The Northwest Straits Initiative is a citizen-driven, Congressionally-authorized program to restore and protect the valuable marine resources and habitats in northern Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Marine Resources Committees in seven counties set local priorities, investigate conditions, sponsor restoration and outreach projects, and recommend science-based marine policy to their respective local governments.

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