$221,200 awarded to Jefferson and Clallam counties for derelict crab pot removal

Researchers clean up crab pots from PT bay

Posted 5/29/19

Each year an estimated 12,000 crab pots are lost in the Salish Sea, according to the Northwest Straits Foundation.

These pots sit at the bottom of the sea and continue to trap crabs with no one to harvest them, resulting in the mortality of nearly 180,000 harvestable crab every year.

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$221,200 awarded to Jefferson and Clallam counties for derelict crab pot removal

Researchers clean up crab pots from PT bay

Posted

Each year an estimated 12,000 crab pots are lost in the Salish Sea, according to the Northwest Straits Foundation.

These pots sit at the bottom of the sea and continue to trap crabs with no one to harvest them, resulting in the mortality of nearly 180,000 harvestable crab every year.

To combat this problem, the Northwest Straits Marine Conservation Foundation was awarded a $221,200 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s Marine Debris Program. With matching funds from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Martin Foundation, the Northwest Straits Foundation has begun a three year project to remove derelict crab pots from the Port Townsend and Dungeness Bays.

“We did an initial sonar survey and found 254 pots just in Port Townsend Bay,” said Jason Morgan, marine projects manager at the Northwest Straits Foundation.

This project goes beyond the most recent funding. Since 2002, the Northwest Straits Foundation has removed 5,400 derelict crab pots and 5,800 derelict fishing nets from Puget Sound.

With this new funding, the goal is to remove a minimum of 1,000 derelict crab pots, clear derelict fishing gear from 5,263 acres of marine habitat and protect 15,000 Dungeness crab per year just in Port Townsend and Dungeness Bays.

Using sonar to locate the crab pots, a team of researchers from the Northwest Straits Foundation and the Natural Resources Consultants, along with a team of divers, spend hours out on the water, diving down to fish up the crab pots and collecting data to determine why it may have gotten lost. Identifiable pots are returned to owners, usable but unidentifiable pots are donated (in this case to Search and Rescue for an auction) and unusable pots get recycled.

“There are a lot of reasons crab pots get lost,” Morgan said. “User error is the main cause. Using lightweight pots and the incorrect length of line are the two main causes.”

Around 200,000 people get a crabbing license in the Puget Sound each year, Morgan said. Around 60,000 of those are people who have never had one before.

“There is a lack of thorough knowledge,” said Cheryl Lowe, WSU Extension Water Programs Coordinator. “People are required to get a crabbing license, but aren’t required to do any training.”

Cheap crab pots bought from retail stores such as Walmart are often not weighed down enough, and in a current can drift away.

Oftentimes, when the crab pots are pulled up from the bottom of the ocean, they have live and dead crabs in them. When the pots don’t have an easy escape door, crabs continue to get trapped inside. In a study conducted by WDFW, test traps caught 1,077 Dungeness crabs, of which 500 (46%) died and 421 (39%) escaped. A trapped crab can live for up to nearly 50 days in a crab pot, Mason said, but one in the study lived for nearly a year. What happens when more crabs come into the pot is that they eat each other. This starts a cycle of crabs coming in, becoming prey, or usurping the other crabs, so that the traps continually have crabs in them, even years after they have been in the water when there is no more bait in the traps.

Simple fixes, such as attaching rebar to the bottom of your trap to weigh it down and using weighted, longer line can help crab pots from getting caught in a current or cut by a passing boat. Using biodegradable string on the escape hatches that will eventually degrade and allow crabs to exit the trap can help prevent crabs from continually getting trapped.

Beyond cleaning up crab pots, the Northwest Straits Foundation and the Jefferson County Marine Resources Committee are hosting several free public classes to teach best practices when it comes to crabbing. To register and learn more, visit jeffersonmrc.org.

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