Every crab season, crab pots are lost, stuck or abandoned along the Oregon coast as a result of harsh winter storms, strong currents, entanglement with floating debris or encounters with other vessels which unintentionally cut off the surface buoys and render the pots irretrievable.
When field work on a federal stimulus marine habitat restoration project ended in November, 2009 1,367 derelict crab pots and 3.8 metric tons of line, cable and buoys had been recovered from Oregon’s nearshore ocean. Fueled by a NOAA grant and managed by ODFW, eight contracted fishing vessels put in a total of 81 days at sea to reclaim pots and fishing gear that was lost or abandoned as a result of winter storms, currents, entanglement or encounters with other vessels.
Although conservation-minded gear regulations are designed to eliminate ghost fishing in these lost pots, they still cause significant headaches for other fishermen when snagged on salmon trolling gear or entangled in trawl nets, and contribute to the growing problem of marine debris.
Lost or derelict fishing gear is a consequence of prosecuting fisheries in the challenging environment of the Oregon coast. Even the most responsible fishers lose gear because of storms and large waves moving set gear, when crab pots become buried in sand or mud on the ocean floor, or when buoys are cut off, tangled or lost.
In spite of regulations limiting the number of crab pots, a significant number of pots are lost each year adding to the growing problem of marine debris. Even though they are designed to eliminate ghost fishing, lost or derelict crab pots pose a hazard to navigation and marine life. The debris also degrades marine habitats, and can injure or kill birds, marine mammals and fish.
The derelict gear recovery project, officially called the Oregon Fishing Industry Partnership to Restore Marine Habitat, is funded with monies received by ODFW from NOAA under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. As an in-kind donation, the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission mounted a volunteer effort, Operation CRABPOT (Clearing Refuse and Building a Pristine Ocean for Tomorrow). Under that effort, seven vessels and crews from Astoria, Winchester Bay, Charleston and Brookings participated in debris removal for a week in September, bringing in a total of 40 lost pots. It is hoped Operation CRABPOT will become an annual fleet-wide event. Volunteers were paid a stipend to cover fuel costs through a donation from the Department of State Lands.
Debris removal work is in keeping with goals of the Nearshore Strategy, the marine component of the Oregon Conservation Strategy, which identifies the negative impacts that derelict fishing gear can have on important marine habitats, such as rocky reefs and soft bottom habitats and marine life.