A Big Problem with Many Solutions: Derelict Crab Pots in Washington State

Posted Wed, 07/17/2019 - 09:18

They say that too many cooks spoil the broth, but when the broth is derelict crab pots in Washington State, the more cooks the better. Over 10,000 crab pots are estimated to be lost annually in the Puget Sound alone, and many more are lost in the Straits of Juan de Fuca and along the Pacific Coast. There is a need for multiple partners, approaches, and solutions to combat the big problem of crab pot loss. Fishers don’t want to lose their pots, but when they do, the pots can continue to catch crabs and other animals (ghost fishing), harm seafloor habitat, ruin the gear of other fisheries, pose a risk to boating, and entangle marine mammals, including whales. 

A round crab pot holds collected crabs and seaweed.
A derelict crab pot brought to the surface, with over 20 crabs in it, the result of ghost fishing (Photo: NOAA).

Prevention is critical, especially to recreational fishers new to the game, and a number of organizations in the state provide excellent information. A little knowledge can go a long way! The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife provides information on rules and regulations, licenses, and areas to catch crabs. The Northwest Straits Foundation offers tips and tricks to catch more crabs and not lose pots, and created a series of short videos for that purpose. Together, with Jefferson and Clallam Counties Marine Resources Committees, they host free workshops      to provide this information in person.

Alt text A man stands at a table that displays crab traps and buoys used for demonstration.
Troy McKelvey, an experienced crab fishermen, shares crab fishing best practices at a workshop (Photo: NOAA).

Removal of derelict crab pots is expensive, and although it’s not possible to recover all lost pots, it could be very helpful in specific areas that have high loss rates. Presently, the Makah Tribe is removing derelict pots from areas in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary where the lost pots harm the sanctuary habitat and prevent other fishing from taking place.

A video series on tips and tricks to catch more crabs and not lose pots was developed by the Northwest Straits Foundation. Watch the full video below!

Two men work on a boat to retrieve a crab pot.
Crab pot removal by the Makah Tribe (Photo: Makah Tribe).

Also along the coast, the Nature Conservancy, in collaboration with the Quinault Indian Nation and the Quileute Tribe, completed projects to remove derelict pots. More importantly, the Quinault Indian Nation, Quileute Tribe, and Makah Tribe are all working with their respective tribal management and commercial fishermen on programs to prevent crab pot loss. 

In the Puget Sound, the Northwest Straits Foundation is collaborating with Natural Resources Consultants on a project to prevent and remove derelict recreational pots in Dungeness Bay and Port Townsend Bay, two areas of high pots loss. Unlike the pots lost along the coast, all the pots in the Puget Sound have no float to identify their location. These pots must be located with side scan sonar and removed one by     one by an expert diver. The diver has to attach a
                                                                                   line to each pot which can then be hauled aboard                                                                                     from the water.

All this activity requires much coordination and collaboration. The Puget Sound Lost Crab Pot Prevention Plan, created in 2016, brought partners together to develop specific strategies and actions that prevent crab pot loss in the Puget Sound. Similarly, the Washington Marine Debris Action Plan, created in 2018, contains numerous actions to reduce crab pot loss and address derelict pots impacts. It is hoped that with effective prevention, targeted removal, and much collaboration, crab pot loss and its impacts in Washington State will decline significantly.

{"preview_thumbnail":"/sites/default/files/styles/video_embed_wysiwyg_preview/public/video_thumbnails/h5n8Z5duINs.jpg?itok=As6MIpI7","video_url":"https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h5n8Z5duINs","settings":{"responsive":1,"width":"854","height":"480","autoplay":0},"settings_summary":["Embedded Video (Responsive)."]}

A Big Problem with Many Solutions: Derelict Crab Pots in Washington State

Posted Wed, 07/17/2019 - 09:18

For citation purposes, unless otherwise noted, this article was authored by the NOAA Marine Debris Program.

The Marine Debris Blog is no longer accepting comments but continues to display past contributions.


Tue, 07/23/2019 - 12:10


James Rhoades

Sun, 03/19/2023 - 15:52

...Because of bad weather was unable to get my crab pots in from Birch bay in time on a Monday 2022. The next day they were gone, possibly picked up by the fish and game. I have not been able to get an answer from the Mill Creek office. How do I get to talk to somebody?
Thank you for your comment. If your fishing gear was picked up and confiscated by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), which enforces fishing laws in Washington state, you can reach out and contact the WILDCOMM Communications Center at WILDCOMM@dfw.wa.gov or 360-902-2936 Option 1. Additional info can be found on the WDFW website at https://wdfw.wa.gov/about/enforcement.