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Thousands of crab pots are lost in Puget Sound each year. They’re dedicated to finding them.

Abandoned crab pots pose threat to marine life

Thousands of crab pots litter the ocean floor along the Washington and Oregon coastline, killing marine life and disrupting navigation. About 640,000 tons of fishing gear is lost or discarded each year in oceans worldwide.
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Thousands of crab pots litter the ocean floor along the Washington and Oregon coastline, killing marine life and disrupting navigation. About 640,000 tons of fishing gear is lost or discarded each year in oceans worldwide.

Just north of Saddlebag Island in Padilla Bay, diver Crayton Fenn disappeared into the water at the stern of a boat Monday morning, returning moments later with crab pots in hand.

Fenn, of Fenn Enterprises, was part of a team that this week departed several times from Cap Sante Marina in Anacortes to areas in Skagit County in search of derelict crab pots.

The team also included representatives of Natural Resources Consultants and the Northwest Straits Foundation.

On Tuesday, the team wrapped up the 15th year of the Northwest Straits Foundation’s derelict crab pot removal program.

Northwest Straits operates the program because derelict – meaning lost or abandoned – crab pots can catch and kill valuable Dungeness crabs and other marine wildlife.

The program targets areas such as those north of Saddlebag Island where lost crab pots are concentrated due to the location’s popularity among crabbers, water movement and changes in water depth, Northwest Straits Foundation Marine Projects Manager Jason Morgan said.

Identifying such areas provides the team the opportunity to remove dozens of crab pots in a day. On Monday, divers retrieved 14 crab pots near Saddlebag Island in about an hour.

Morgan said before enlisting the help of a dive team, Northwest Straits uses a type of sonar to confirm the presence of crab pots.

High concentrations of crab pots in Skagit County have been identified in Similk Bay, east of Fidalgo Island, south and east of Guemes Island, and south and west of Samish Island, Morgan said.

Sonar surveys in early May revealed 614 derelict crab pots within a 3-square-mile area, and dives to recover them began May 15. By the time this year’s efforts wrapped up Tuesday, 486 derelict crab pots had been removed from waters in Skagit County.

Since first recovering derelict crab pots in 2003, the Northwest Straits program has removed about 5,400 of them from the region’s marine waters. About 1,200 of those were recovered from sites in Skagit County.

In those pots from throughout the region Northwest Straits has documented about 1,100 dead crabs including Dungeness and red rock, as well as other wildlife, Morgan said.

Thousands of crab pots are lost in Puget Sound each year.

Studies have estimated that lost crab pots could be catching and killing enough crabs – an act called ghost fishing, when the wildlife is not recovered and used – to be worth a loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The state Department of Fish & Wildlife and the state Department of Ecology provide funding for the Northwest Straits Foundation’s crab pot removal efforts.

The crab pot recovery effort is part of the Northwest Straits Foundation’s larger Derelict Fishing Gear Removal project.

Northwest Straits has been working for years on that project to find and retrieve lost fishing nets that often ensnare wildlife.

About 5,800 nets have now been recovered, with about 480,000 fish, birds and mammals – some dead and some alive – stuck in them.

In addition to recovering derelict crab pots and fishing nets each year, Northwest Straits also runs the Catch More Crab campaign in partnership with the Skagit Marine Resources Committee during the summer crabbing season to raise awareness of the issues.

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