By: Nir Barnea, Pacific Northwest Regional Coordinator for the NOAA Marine Debris Program
“Come aboard, I’ll show you the boat,” said Lonnie Foster, a tribal leader with the Quileute Indian Tribe, and fisherman from a young age. The three of us— Kara Cardinal (Project Manager with the Nature Conservancy), Jennifer Hagen (Fisheries Biologist and Project Manager for the Quileute Tribe), and myself (representing the NOAA Marine Debris Program)— climbed aboard Lonnie’s boat, the F/V C.F. Todd, docked at the marina in La Push. We got a quick tour of the boat and the crabbing gear aboard.
When it comes to crab fishing, Lonnie has seen a lot: massive storms and monstrous waves (the height of the Dungeness crabbing season is in the stormy dead of winter), ocean currents so swift that they pull the crab pot floats under the sea surface, and of course, lots of lost crab pots. No fisherman wants to lose pots— they’re expensive. However, the Dungeness crab fishery, well-managed and sustainable otherwise, loses pots frequently— possibly up to 10% of the total average 100,000 pots fished in Washington State every year. That’s a lot of lost pots.
This is why Lonnie, as well as other Quileute Tribes fishers, are part of a project to survey and remove lost crab pots in the fishing area of the Quileute Tribe. A collaboration of the Nature Conservancy, The Quileute Indian Tribe, and the NOAA Marine Debris Program, the project will use local knowledge on the location of lost crab pots, augment it with aerial surveys using a small aircraft to spot lost pots, and employ tribal fishers to recover the pots. Recovered crab pots in good shape will be reused, and non-usable pots will be recycled or disposed of.
Most importantly, the Quileute Indian Tribe, like the Quinault Indian Nation which is involved in a similar project, is committed to addressing crab pot loss beyond this one project. The Tribe will develop its crab pot prevention, reporting, and removal program to help make a difference and reduce the number of lost crab pots out in the ocean.