Derelict Fishing Gear in Puget Sound
Derelict fishing gear in Puget Sound entangles and kills marine animals, smothers and degrades marine habitats and poses a danger for human safety and navigation. Derelict fishing gear is recognized by USFWS, WDFW and NOAA as a threat to ESA listed rockfish and marbled murrelets. The Northwest Straits Initiative began removing derelict fishing gear from shallow sub-tidal waters of Puget Sound in 2002. The Initiative’s Derelict Fishing Gear Program is managed by the Northwest Straits Foundation, a regional non-profit organization working to protect and restore the marine ecosystem of Puget Sound.
The Northwest Straits Foundation’s goal is to eliminate harm from derelict fishing gear in Puget Sound. We focus on three priorities: derelict fishing gear removal, fishing gear loss prevention, and research focused on understanding the impacts of derelict fishing gear.
Shallow water legacy nets
Shallow water legacy nets are derelict fishing nets – usually gillnets, found in waters to 105’ in depth that have been lost or abandoned. As of August 2016, the Foundation removed more than 5,900 derelict nets from all over Puget Sound: Point Roberts Reef, Hein Bank, Lawson Reef, Port Angeles, Alden Bank, Padilla Bay, North Whidbey Island, and many other locations.
More than 460,000 animals representing more than 270 unique species were found in these removed derelict fishing nets. Species found dead include porpoise, sea lions, scoters, grebes, cormorants, canary rockfish, Chinook salmon, and Dungeness crab.
Removing these nets has restored over 870 acres of important marine habitat. Using a catch rate model developed by researchers at UC Davis using our data, we estimate that removing 5,900 nets protects more than 1,700 marine mammals, 28,000 birds,118,000 fish and 4.3 million invertebrates from entanglement every year.
Newly lost nets
Currently, the Northwest Straits Foundation estimates that 10-30 commercial gillnets are lost each year. This is a huge reduction in loss from past decades when the salmon gillnet fishery was much larger. To ensure that newly lost nets do not become derelict and re-accumulate in Puget Sound, the Northwest Straits Foundation developed the Reporting, Response and Retrieval Program. Managed in partnership with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Puget Sound Tribes, this no-fault, no-penalty program provides commercial fishers with a reporting system to ensure that newly lost nets are located and removed before they become derelict and cause unintended harm.
Since the program’s inception, the Foundation has responded to eighty-four reports of lost nets. Of those reports, more than 50% were successfully located and removed. The remaining reported nets were either not found, were determined not to be derelict, or were determined to not be fishing gear.
Deep water derelict nets
Deep water derelict fishing nets are those located in waters deeper than 105 feet, beyond the depth that our divers can safely work within established removal protocols. We know of approximately 207 derelict deep water nets and believe there are many, many more to be identified and removed. Last year the Foundation worked in partnership with Derelict Fishing Gear Program field operations manager, Natural Resources Consultants, to complete a report assessing the feasibility of removing derelict nets from these depths. The report recommended employing remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) for removal.
In 2015, the Foundation tested the feasibility of removing derelict fishing nets from deep water using Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs). Operating in waters above and below 105’, the Foundation successfully removed ten derelict nets from four locations: Yukon Harbor, Port Madison, Pile Point, and Mitchell Bay. More work in deep water is planned for 2016
Derelict Crab Pots
Approximately 12,000 crab pots are lost every year in Puget Sound, costing the commercial fishery up to $700,000 in lost harvest revenue. As of August 2016, the Foundation removed more than 4,700 derelict crab pots from a variety of locations including Port Townsend Bay, Dungeness Bay, and Port Gardner. We recently concluded a Crab Pot Escapement Study to learn more about the effectiveness of escape mechanisms used on common crab pots styles in Puget Sound. Many of the derelict pots retrieved are still fishing even after escape cord has disintegrated, theoretically disabling the pot. The purpose of this study was to identify the most effective escape mechanisms, working towards the goal of minimizing impacts from derelict crab pots in Puget Sound.