Derelict fishing gear
Sixty tons in six years: reducing threats to California marine wildlife through lost fishing gear recovery
The California Lost Fishing Gear Recovery Project is funded by grants made specifically for gear removal in California. It is not supported by funds donated to the SeaDoc Society by individuals. The California project is an example of the kind of cross-pollination and collaboration across political boundaries that are hallmarks of the SeaDoc Society's work: lessons learned in Washington and California are shared with groups working in each area to make gear removal more efficient and more economically feasible.
The SeaDoc Society at the University of California, Davis Wildlife Health Center launched the California Lost Fishing Gear Recovery Project in July 2005 in partnership with the California Ocean Protection Council and State Coastal Conservancy, the Northwest Straits Commission (Mt. Vernon, Washington), and NOAA's Marine Debris Program and Office of Restoration.
This project encourages ocean users to report the presence of lost gear, and hires experienced commercial SCUBA divers to remove gear from near-shore waters in a safe and environmentally sensitive manner.
Since May 2006, the California Lost Fishing Gear Recovery Project has retrieved more than 60 tons of gear from California's coastal ocean, primarily in Southern California, including around the California Channel Islands (Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, Anacapa and Santa Catalina). [Figures as of November 2012]
As well, the project has cleaned more than 1400 pounds of recreational fishing gear off public fishing piers from Santa Cruz to Imperial Beach including more than 1 million feet of fishing line. Several of these piers now have fishing line recycling bins, to encourage proper disposal of unwanted hooks and microfilament.
And although the debris was not fishing gear, in May 2010 the project removed 650 discarded toilets and automobile tires weighing almost 20 tons from a rocky reef off Pt. Dume, Malibu. This is an area under consideration by the State of California for special designation as a Marine Protected Area in large part because of the large reef it encompasses. SeaDoc and the Department of Fish and Game were keen to restore as much of the reef to more pristine conditions as possible.
Currently, with the support of the California Wildlife Conservation Board and the NOAA Marine Debris Program and mitigation monies transferred from the California Coastal Commission, the California Lost Fishing Gear Recovery Project is continuing to help reduce the potential impact of lost fishing gear on living marine resources and underwater habitat by building upon successes to date to accomplish the following new goals:
- Enhancing the function of and restoring underwater habitat of the designated and proposed Marine Protected Areas in Central and Southern California by focusing gear recovery effort in these MPA networks;
- Retrieving lost fishing gear anywhere on the coast where it is a high priority for removal because of demonstrated or potential impacts to marine wildlife and people, including more work in the Channel Islands Marine Sanctuary and extensive work in the Santa Barbara Channel and off the Los Angeles County coast;
- Working closely with commercial Dungeness crab fishermen on the North Coast to develop a program whereby crab fishermen are conducting the gear work themselves and selling the recovered gear back to their fellow fishermen, work that is made all the more financially feasible through reimbursements of out-of-pocket expenses incurred in the recovery work; and
- Increasing the likelihood that ocean users and enthusiasts will know enough about the project and the issue to serve as our "eyes" on and under the water through outreach.
- Download a reporting form, or
- Call 1-888-491-GEAR
To download a copy of the California Lost Fishing Gear Recovery Project Policies & Procedures manual (pdf), please click here.
If you have questions about lost fishing gear removal in California or for copies of our field reports, contact staff:
This past week (June 28 & 29, 2011) SeaDoc co-hosted a Rockfish Recovery Workshop in Seattle with the State Department of Wildlife and NOAA Fisheries.
Nearly 100 scientists, fisheries managers, fishers and SCUBA divers attended the 2-day workshop to discuss the current state of knowledge on rockfish and to identify future needs related to recovering depleted rockfish populations in the Salish Sea.
There are 28 species of rockfish in the Salish Sea. Thirteen (13) are listed as species of concern and recently 3 species were listed under the US Endangered Species Act.
In addition to helping organize the workshop, SeaDoc also helped bring in Canadians to share their perspective on what has and has not worked with rockfish recovery on the other side of the border.
A lot of the research SeaDoc funded over the last 10 years was presented and plans were laid for moving rockfish recovery forward. The meeting proceedings will be published soon and will be available here on the SeaDoc website.
In the meantime, here's a recap:
(Please note that this summary is taken from my notes and if there are errors or misstatements they are mine, not the researchers/presenters! -Joe T.)
Historical Context Session
Wayne Palsson spoke on the biology and assessment of rockfishes in Puget Sound. Rockfishes are a diverse group of species with different life histories. They require various habitat during different life stages. They are adapted for slow growth, long survival, late maturity, low natural mortality rates, and high habitat fidelity. These are all factors that make recovery tough. There's a lack of long-term data that makes it hard to create conventional age-structure population models and biomass dynamic models.
Chris Harvey reviewed the ecological history of rockfish exploitation in Puget Sound. Rockfish bones have been found in middens dating back 1,500 years. Much of the fishing pressure on rockfish began after the Boldt decision in 1974, which required that harvests in Puget Sound be coequally managed by the State government and the Treaty Tribes of Washington. It's also been influenced by demographic trends and by the promotion of the fishery by State government. (Unfortunately, as covered in Wayne Palsson's talk, it wasn't until 1982 that scientists learned that rockfish were generally 2 to 3 times longer lived than they'd thought, which meant the existing population models were not accurate.) By the time management efforts were deemed necessary, the greatest harvests had already occurred.
Anne Beaudreau discussed her work to reconstruct historical trends in rockfish abundance. The lack of data on historical populations of rockfish is a major barrier to developing sustainable fisheries. Beaudreau and colleagues interviewed 101 individuals ranging in age from 24 to 90 years to try to derive trends in the abundance of rockfish from 1940 to the present. Of particular interest was the evidence of "shifting baselines." To a statistically significant degree, each age group of respondents interpreted the conditions at the beginning of their awareness as "abundant" and saw declines from there, but what was "declining" to an older person was "abundant" to a younger person.
Benthic Habitat Surveys/Rockfish Abundance Estimates Session
Gary Greene presented the Salish Sea sea floor mapping project, which has produced bathymetric and habitat maps of the San Juan Islands area. Rockfish prefer particular habitat types, and the multibeam echosounders used by Greene and his colleagues allows these potential habitat areas to be identified. (Other participants were very interested in having these maps for other areas in the Salish Sea.
Bob Pacunski spoke on work to use non-lethal methods to survey rockfish populations. Traditional trawl or long-line sampling results in fish mortality, but using a small remotely-operated vehicle has been shown to be effective at providing population surveys.
Joan Drinkwin of the Northwest Straits Foundation spoke on the threat posed to rockfish by derelict fishing gear, including both nets and traps. The Northwest Straits Initiative has removed 3,860 nets from Puget Sound, all at less than 105 feet deep. There are 950 shallow-water nets still in the water, and at least 70 in deeper water. Based on studies of net mortality by the SeaDoc Society, approximately 1,600 rockfish per year are captured and killed in derelict nets each year in the United States portion of the Salish Sea.
...More coming soon...
If you see derelict fishing gear such as ghost nets or abandoned crab pots, you can report it by calling 855-542-3935.
You can also report gear you've lost.
This is a new toll-free phone number established by the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife to make it easier for boaters and divers to report derelict gear.
Northwest Straits has removed more than 3,800 derelict fishing nets and over 2,000 lost crab pots from Puget Sound since 2002. Over 200,000 animals (fish, birds, marine mammals) were found entangled in the gear.
When reporting lost gear, please indicate the date of sighting, type of gear, approximate water depth, general location, and latitude and longitude if available.
Restoring a vast, complex ecosystem like the Salish Sea costs money — that long green stuff with the short future. With politicians and public opinion involved, tough fights often break out over spending on improvements that, to some, appear subjective: Is it worth $100,000 to remove a certain bulkhead or replant a certain eel grass bed? Maybe… And that’s where good science can inform great policy.
One of the best examples of science coming to the rescue of a dollar-and-cents conservation issue occurred when the SeaDoc Society recently got caught up in the question of abandoned fishing nets. In partnership with the Northwest Straits Initiative, SeaDoc developed a predictive model that clearly shows the cost of these ghost nets that continue to trap and kill marine life for decades.
Northwest Straits Initiative-funded researchers made multiple dives on derelict nets, counting trapped critters, studying decomposition rates, and determining how much of the dead marine life fell out of the nets as they were recovered (Over 17% of the catch never made it to the surface, showing how critical it is to have underwater scientists on the job). SeaDoc then dove into the data, actually inventing a statistical model to predict each cast-off net’s killing capacity.
The results? Abandoned nets catch and kill more than 1,000 invertebrates (mainly crabs), 150 fish, and nearly 80 birds every year, year after year after year – and most of these silent killers have been doing their dirty work since the 1970s. Run that data through the seafood value calculator and it quickly adds up, with each net wasting $19,656 in Dungeness crab alone, every 10 years. The one-time cost to retrieve a derelict net? $1,358. It doesn’t take an accountant to do that cost-benefit analysis.
Only through funding from private donors like you was SeaDoc able to do this ground-breaking (and net-cutting) science, which has led to clear policy and, more importantly, vital and measurable improvement in the Salish Sea ecosystem. Thank you.
To view the manuscript just published in Marine Pollution Bulletin, click here (pdf).
For more about SeaDoc's derelict fishing gear project, see our lost fishing gear page.
How to report derelict fishing gear.
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Marine species mortality in derelict fishing nets in Puget Sound, WA and the cost/benefits of derelict net removal
Derelict fishing gear—lost, abandoned or discarded sport and commercial line, nets, traps, etc.—in the marine environment is a significant cause of injury in California coastal marine wildlife. We evaluated data for stranded animals only; our results may underestimate the true number of coastal marine animals injured by lost or discarded fishing gear in California.
Research by SeaDoc Director Kirsten Gilardi and others has studied the medical records from certain wildlife rehabilitation facilities in California to determine the rate and timing of injuries from derelict fishing gear.