Annual project to remove lost fishing gear underway

Commercial fishermen during a previous lost fishing gear recovery project begin unloading a boatful of lost or abandoned crab pots. [North Carolina Coastal Federation photo]

The North Carolina Coastal Federation last week began the 2022 edition of its lost fishing gear recovery project, an effort to remove lost crab pots and other that gear can create serious hazards to boaters, wildlife and other fishermen.

For the past eight years, the federation has hired commercial fishers to collect this lost fishing gear during January, the annual closure of internal coastal waters to all crab, eel, fish and shrimp pots, north of the Highway 58 bridge to Emerald Isle.

This year on Jan. 8, 24 commercial watermen began collecting crab pots. Each crew works between three and five days over the course of the month from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., depending on the weather. The project is taking place in parts of Marine Patrol District 1, which covers the northeast region, and District 2, the central region of the coast.

“Being on the water nearly every day as a full-time commercial fisherman, it’s important to remove the lost pots and keep our waters clean and safe. This project provides work during the closed season and that’s very valuable to me and many of the other participants,” said Chris Forbes, a project participant from Hertford.

Once the pots are collected, they are recycled to the best extent possible. Crab pots that are recovered from the Albemarle and Pamlico Sound region will be available for the rightful property owners to reclaim after the cleanup is complete.

Sara Hallas, coastal education coordinator for the federation and project leader, said she’s excited to clean up the waterways and create opportunities for work during this time of the year.

“This project wouldn’t be possible without the support of community organizations and our commercial watermen and women, who have consistently expressed that helping with this project and protecting waterways is important to them,” she said.

This project is part of the federation’s overall effort to ensure the North Carolina coast is free of marine debris. Commercial watermen and women in partnership with North Carolina Marine Patrol removed 3,128 pots from select areas within all three Marine Patrol Districts in 2021.

Establishing an annual paid program for marine debris removal, including crab pots, is a key objective of the North Carolina Marine Debris Strategic Plan. The North Carolina General Assembly funded the project this year. It is intended to improve habitat, water quality and support coastal economies.