Derelict marine life killers targeted

Divers brought up about 400 feet of derelict net, weighing more than 1,000 pounds, from a rich underwater habitat near Stuart Island in San Juan County last week.

The net cleanup was the kickoff event for the Northwest Straits Marine Conservation Initiative’s pilot project aimed at removing 12 tons of net and other fishing gear from the water of Puget Sound over the next year.

If fish and crab had palms, they would be applauding. Abandoned nets continue to catch and kill fish, marine mammals, birds and other underwater inhabitants. Lost crab pots and shrimp pots continue trapping creatures.

They are also dangerous to people. Divers can become ensnared in these ghost nets.

In fact, Tom Cowan of Northwest Straits Marine Conservation Initiative said the event illustrated the need for ridding the depths of nets, shrimp and crab pots, and other fishing gear.

One of the divers got momentarily snared in old fishing lines and “extraneous gear” that was attached to the giant net. The divers also saw crabs, sponges and urchins caught in the net, as well as many fish skeletons below.

“The net covered up a large portion of important marine habitat,” Cowan said.

Although nobody knows exactly how much abandoned fishing gear there is Northwest waters, Cowan said researchers and dive clubs estimate that there’s hundreds of tons beneath the waves.

He said there’s “definitely” a lot of gear around Whidbey Island, particularly in the water between Keystone and Port Townsend.

Besides removing 12 tons of gear over the next year, Cowan said the commission is going to develop a set up a protocol for safely removing derelict gear, as a well as a database of the underwater nets.

NW Straits is a citizens commission authorized by Congress in 1999 to help protect and conserve Puget Sound habitat and fisheries. The organization received a $75,000 grant for the net cleanup project.

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