When the boys and I go up to Anacortes to crab with writer Wayne Heinz and Lucie Fritz, Wayne will tell us that on the mid-July opener it’s as easy as putt-putting a couple hundred yards out of Cap Sante Marina and sending down baited pots.
In late summer, when we go, we have to run further out to find plentiful Dungeness and red rocks, but Wayne’s observation of how popular and productive these close-in waters are was really in evidence a couple weeks ago on Facebook.
The Northwest Straits Initiative Derelict Fishing Gear Removal Project posted a map that showed the locations of 614 lost crab pots from just outside the marina east into Padilla Bay and north towards the western tip of Samish Island.
Discovered by sidescanning sonar, nearly all of the pots were in depths of less than 60 feet.
Crews have since begun to haul these up — some unfortunately still fishing with dead crabs as bait — and that was the subject of a story last night on KOMO News.
“It’s probably about the highest density we’ve seen. It’s a quite a big number,” Jason Morgan of the Northwest Straits Foundation told reporter Michelle Esteban.
Morgan told her it’s a “perfect storm” of heavily trafficked waters — in addition to the marina, tankers deliver oil to the refinery and this is the northern end of the Swinomish Channel cutoff — strong tide swings through the islands and proximity to deeper waters.
No doubt that some pots are actually pilfered, but Esteban reports that crab cages are lost “mostly due to user-error — namely not weighting the pots, using the wrong line and unfamiliarity with tide and depth.”
When we go, before dropping pots, Wayne and Lucie keep a close eye on their Lowrance to note the depth and choose the right length of rope. They pick one that has plenty of scope to account for tide and current and thus will keep the pot on bottom while floating their oversized buoy. And then they put a waypoint on the map to return to.
Yet as the old saying goes, stuff happens. WDFW reports that every year, crabbers lose 12,000 pots.
This is not to overlook the problem of derelict commercial gillnets. The Northwest Straits Initiative reports that at Point Roberts alone, “abandoned nets were destroying $437,000 worth of crab every season.”
But between all the lost pots just outside Anacortes and this summer’s closure at the other end of Puget Sound due to low numbers of Dungeness, it shows we need to be more careful with managing the fishery and how we’re fishing for them if we want to pass this tradition along to future generations.
To that end, the lost pot recoverers have kindly posted a series of videos with great tips on how to not only lose less gear but catch more crabs.
And if you do lose gear — again, stuff happens — or come across somebody else’s, there are no-fault reporting hotlines to call or enter locational information to make it easier to haul out of the depths so it doesn’t go on killing endlessly.