Commercial watermen recover 3,496 lost crab pots from coastal waters

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This was the second year that the Lost Fishing Gear Recovery Project took place along the entire North Carolina coast.

A total of 76 commercial watermen worked throughout the coast of North Carolina in January to collect 3,496 lost crab pots as part of a statewide marine debris removal effort to prevent hazards for people and wildlife.

The Lost Fishing Gear Recovery Project is led by the North Carolina Coastal Federation with $100,000 from the North Carolina General Assembly.

The project takes place during the no-potting period when all crab pots must be removed from the water due to fishing regulations. This cleanup was conducted in all three Marine Patrol districts — covering all internal coastal waters — for the second year. The project lasted from Jan. 17-27, with boats working anywhere from two to six days, depending on the Marine Patrol district.

This year in Marine Patrol District 3 — which covers the southeast region of the North Carolina coast from Cape Carteret to the South Carolina line — six boats made up of 12 commercial watermen picked up 247 crab pots.

“It’s really great to see the partnerships established from this project among the different user groups,” said Jessica Gray, coastal outreach associate for the federation and project manager for Marine Patrol District 3. “I enjoy working on this project and am proud of the federation for bringing everyone together. The combination of knowledge and expertise and these groups working towards a common goal is crucial to the project’s success.”

Pots typically end up lost as the result of large weather events. Lost pots can become hung in man-made structures such as bridges, or they can drift into channels over time, increasing the likelihood of buoy detachment by vessel traffic.

Commercial watermen are able to predict where lost pots may end up based on shifting currents and tides, and this project also creates opportunities for work during a slower time of the year due to colder waters and the multi-week crabbing closure.

“We are out working on the water almost every day and make a living off the sound. It takes care of us so we want to take care of it,” said John Silver, a waterman who annually participates in the District 1 cleanup.

Prior to 2017, this project was funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Marine Debris Program to recover crab pots from Marine Patrol District 1. The funding from the General Assembly made the 2017 expansion possible.

The cleanup is held in partnership with North Carolina Marine Patrol, with additional financial support from the NOAA Marine Debris Program.

“We are grateful and appreciative of the assistance and support for removing derelict crab pots from coastal waters during the closed potting season this year,” said Marine Patrol in a statement. “The increased assistance from local watermen and the federation has helped free up Marine Patrol officers for other enforcement duties and assignments. This project has allowed the federation, the commercial fishing industry and the state to work together removing derelict pots from the water. We look forward to continued cooperation in the future.”

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