ghosts, and orphans might sound more like Charles Dickens characters
than lost or abandoned crab pots, but the terminology is an apt
description of marine debris clogging northeastern North Carolina
two-year pilot project to find and remove unattended, storm-tossed or
sunken wire pots, netting and fishing line from areas of the region’s
sounds is being launched this winter in a cooperative arrangement
between the N.C. Coastal Federation, North Carolina Sea Grant, the
state Marine Patrol, working watermen and community volunteers.
last time the waterways and shorelines around the Outer Banks were
cleaned of debris that can create navigational hazards and
environmental blight was in 1995, when Sea Grant helped organize a
community effort that collected 22 tons of fishing gear, said Sara
Mirabilio, fisheries specialist with Sea Grant’s Extension Program in
“Since then,” she said, “we constantly hear people say, ‘We really need that collection.’”
fishermen will be paid to help Marine Patrol officers find and remove
gear from under the water, said Ladd Bayliss, the coastal advocate in
the federation Manteo office. Two of the fishermen will be trained to
use side-scan sonar to locate buried debris.
said she was inspired by the success of the marine debris program in
the Chesapeake Bay and believes that a similar effort in northeastern
North Carolina could succeed on a smaller scale if stakeholders work
project is planned for January and February, when by law crab pots must
be out of the water. Marine Patrol officers will be out checking for
orphan pots then, and they will work closely with the fishermen and
volunteers who are usually not allowed to pick up found gear.
it boils down to is that the way the statute is written, if it’s not
yours, you’re stealing,” she said. “That’s the problem that’s
precluding citizens from helping.”
area to be cleaned includes sections of Currituck, Pamlico, and
Albemarle sounds, from Alligator River to Oregon Inlet to Stumpy Point.
“That’s 180,000 acres of water,” Bayliss said. “So that’s a good start.”
project is being funded with a $35,000 grant from the National Oceanic
and Atmospheric Administration, an $18,000 grant from North Carolina
Sea Grant, and $10,000 in matching funds.
Another component of the project, Bayliss said, will be repurposing the old crab pots into oyster reefs.
said that there has been a lot more focus lately on the problem of
“ghost fishing,” when lost nets and pots continue to catch fish without
anyone tending the gear.
“But the problem is it’s lost and you can find it,” she said. “A lot of people think this is impacting fishery recovery.”
Besides lost pots, nets sometimes can get sliced from anchor lines.
in the river mouths, you can have stumps wash down through the sound
and tear a gill net and a gill net unfortunately does not break down
the same way a metal pot does,” she said. “It can gillnet a fish. It
can wrap around a terrapin’s leg.”
the expectation is that the bulk of the debris will be crab pots in
varying conditions, no one is quite sure what will turn up.
actually hoping we’ll get a better handle on what other junk is out
there,” she said. “We’ve never went about this in a scientific way.”
Fishermen who collect the pots will also take notes and record GPS positions, which will be useful for comparison next year.
Grant is also conducting its own volunteer cleanup project on the
shoreline of Croatan Sound during the same time period, she said.
Overall, more people have been expressing interest in marine
“People want to get involved,” she said, “and there’s been a lot of people who want to pick up this lost gear out there.”
Patrol goes out every year between Jan. 15 to Feb. 7 to check around
for abandoned cages, said Don Twyne, captain in District 1, which
stretches from Ocracoke to the Virginia line and into Washington,
Martin, Tyrrell, Dare, and Chowan counties. When the officers
find a pot, they look for identification tags. Some of the pots may
have been washed away during a storm and are in bad shape. If the pots
are still set, the owner could be issued a citation. If identification
is not possible, the pot is usually destroyed.
“One year, we had about 8,000 that came out of just District 1,” he said.
recent years, he said, the number of derelict pots Marine Patrol finds
has decreased to between 400 to 800, largely because of stiff fines
crabbers could face.
said he supports the federation project as a way to get the fishermen
involved while helping them earn some money in the off-season. And it
could be more effective than the air and boat patrols his agency puts
to the task.
going to use sonar,” he said. “That’s going to see things we’d never
find. . . . Maybe it’s a good way to cover more area and maybe a little
typically have stands of pots, as many as 200, that they paint with
different colors so they can recognize the pots and the buoys. Loss of
the pots – which can cost about $50 each, rigged out - is usually
related to the weather or accidental cutting of a line, although there
are occasional instances of theft.
Midgett, a Stumpy Point fisherman who has crabbed March to December for
about 25 years, said that most crabbers look out for each other.
“Sometimes there’s a terrible blow that wasn’t predicted, and
guys will spend days looking for their pots,” he said. “They’re so
expensive, most people really look hard to find them.”
said that crabbers will let other crabbers know if they see their pots,
or they’ll bring them back to the dock. He said Marine Patrol knows who
is stealing or not.
are lots of reasons that a pot would be abandoned, Midgett said, and
they’re not necessarily the crabber’s fault. It could be that he
is sick, or his motor is broken, or there’s a family crisis. “I
mean, you don’t know what somebody is going through,” he said.
are much less of a contributor to the marine debris problem because
they are so strictly regulated, he said. And if large pound nets are
lost in a storm, the fishermen will usually be able to get them back.
Whatever the cause of gear ending up as marine debris, Midgett said he welcomes the effort to remove it.
might be able to collect more lost gear than Marine Fisheries – I bet
you 100 to one,” he said. “That will be interesting to see how well
said he will not be able participate in the cleanup, unless the weather
makes it impossible for him to fish in the ocean.
Twyne applauded the federation for launching a program that provides “real good customer service” for the local community.
“I hope it’s continued,” he said, “and it’s actually enhanced and we can do it throughout the whole state.”
story is provided courtesy of Coastal Review Online, the coastal news
and features service of the N.C. Coastal Federation. You can read other
stories about the North Carolina coast at www.nccoast.org.)