January 25, 2010

Thousands of lost crab pots in Puget Sound harm marine wildlife

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Sitting on the floor of Puget Sound are thousands of pounds of derelict fishing gear. Lost fishing gear in a large body of water doesn’t really sound like a big deal at first, but when looked at a bit more closely the effects can be shocking.

Jennifer“Derelict fishing gear in Puget Sound is a problem. There is an estimated – maybe – 15,000 crab pots that have been lost in the last 5 years in Puget Sound,”  Rep. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, told the Agriculture and Natural Resources committee earlier this week, in support of House Bill 2593.

If passed, the measure would direct the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to solicit a $2 donation every time a recreational fishing license is purchased. The money would go into a grant program that would fund organizations to remove derelict shellfish pots.

In addition to being essentially garbage at the bottom of Puget Sound, derelict crap pots have an enormous impact on the marine ecosystem. Lost crab pots continue to catch and kill crabs long after the bait is gone, as well as other marine life, for up to two years. Crab larvae is also a large portion of Chinook salmon diet in certain areas of Puget Sound.

“The average lost crab pot will catch 30 crabs in a year and will kill 21 of those crabs,” Ginny Broadhurst of the Northwest Straights Commission told the committee. “That amounts to about 256,000 crabs that are wasted annually.”

The Northwest Straights Commission has received $4.6 million in stimulus money to retrieve derelict fishing gear in Puget Sound. The endeavor has been successful so far and has also created jobs, but the money was “just targeted at the nets, not at crab pots,” explained Broadhurst.

Concerns were raised about the complexity of removing the gear because of the diversity of Puget Sound, making it more difficult than on the coast. User groups include the tribes and commercial and recreational crabbers. In implementing the retrieval program, organizations and law enforcement expressed a desire to be careful not to remove legitimate crab pots as well as tribal fishing gear.

The bill has the support of Fish and Wildlife law enforcement and the Shellfish Policy League. It will be brought before the Agriculture and Natural Resources committee in an executive session this week.

— Jennifer Privette

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