On April 27, 2017, the NOAA Marine Debris Program highlighted three Community-Based Marine Debris Removal Grant projects focused on crab pots around the United States in a "removal webinar." This webinar provided an opportunity for NOAA’s existing partners to learn and exchange information pertaining to crab pot removals from different regions. The presentations covered project overviews, key measures of success, lessons learned, and general project highlights from the following removal projects:
- Fisherman-led Dungeness crab gear recovery in Northern and Central California, UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine
Presenter: Kirsten Gilardi
- Creating a self-sustaining strategy to remove derelict fishing gear in North Carolina, North Carolina Coastal Federation
Presenter: Ladd Bayliss
- Derelict crab trap removal and prevention in shallow coastal bays: transferring a sustainable marine debris program, Stockton University
Presenters: Mark Sullivan and Steve Evert
Jenna Malek: Good afternoon everybody, thank you so much for joining us for the Marine Debris Program communications webinar series. Just a quick introduction for those of you that might not be super familiar with the NOAA Marine Debris Program. We are in NOAA”s Office of Response and Restoration and our mission is to investigate and prevent the diverse effect so of marine debris. To fulfill this mission, we have 5 pillars which include: regional coordination, emergency response, research, prevention, and removal which we are going to be focusing on today. In future webinars, we will be focusing on other things such as prevention. One of the big things that our program does is that we give out grants to different partners in order to do things such as removal and prevention, and since 2006 when the program started, with our partners, we have removed over 5500 tons of debris from the coastlines of the United States and the Great Lakes. Today we’re going to focus on a few of the current removal grants that we have, and these are all really interesting because they revolve around the removal of derelict crab pots, but they take place in different parts of the country. A really cool characteristic that these projects have is that they are all working with local fishing communities. So we are really excited for you to join us today and to hear about these projects. We will start first with Dr. Kirsten Gilardi at the University of California Davis in the School of Veterinary Medicine. Kirsten take it away!
Kirsten: Thanks! Happy to be here with all of you spread out all over the country and maybe even in other parts of the world. Thanks for organizing. My name is Kirsten Gilardi, I am the co-director of the Wildlife Health Center at the UC Davis School of Medicine in CA and am presenting today on behalf of my staff person Jennifer Renzullo as well. So we’re going to talk about this project for which we currently have NOAA MDP funding for implementation.
That’s a photo of Jen Ren, my colleague. We launched the California lost fishing gear recovery gear recovery project well over 10 years ago, July 2005, with some initial funding form the California Ocean Protection Council. We modeled our program very closely on the derelict fishing gear recovery programs that were underway at the time in Washington state and Hawaii and the Northwest Hawaiian Islands. To date, overall, our project have recovered more than 120 tons of fishing gear and debris and that has been comprised of many hundreds of nets and traps and pots, as well as millions of feet of monofilament fishing line. As we’ve gone through this project, as I’m sure we’ll hear from the other projects, we’ve documented many entanglements, well over 1000 entanglements and entrapments including marine mammals and sea birds, sharks, fish, live and dead, and of course a lot of lobsters, Dungeness crabs, other crab species, other invertebrates.
Our first several years, we did most of our work in the Southern California Bight. Our grants were fairly geographically specific. We worked very closely with urchin harvesters as our contractors and they essentially did search and collection underwater for derelict fishing gear, both for nets and also lobster gear.
That was keeping us plenty busy for quite a while and then we started receiving calls as our project became well known in the state, we were receiving calls from fishermen on the north coast of California just talking about what they perceived to be a really growing problem with derelict Dungeness crab gear. This is a photo just to show you how big and harsh the ocean can get. Those aren’t crab pots, those are boats. But basically, ocean conditions on the north coast are pretty severe, there is a lot of boat traffic, kelp and the combination of those factors means that everybody in the fleet loses gear and there was too much of that accumulating as far as the fishermen and other ocean users were concerned.
We first received funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) through their fishing for energy program in the summer and fall of 2015 and launched this program in partnership with the Humboldt Fisherman’s Marketing Association (HFMA). The HFMA themselves selected 3 boats to serve as the primary crews in the field recovering gear and the HFMA members themselves agreed that those fisherman would be paid $50/trap that they pulled and $75 per pumped trap. They would also have their fuel costs reimbursed and then HFMA, the gear that they bought from the fishermen, the derelict gear, would then be sold back to original owners, for the same price.
So the result of that pilot effort was that the three different fisherman spent 20 days on the water and ended up recovering 666 lost and abandoned Dungeness crab traps, as well as a lot of buoys and line. And that gear represented by gear lost by 65 different boats.
And if you look at what I call the fiscal snapshot, out grant from NFWF was $109K and we sub awarded the HFMW $50K to cover gear retrieval costs and boats and fuel, etc. HFMA, of that $50K sub award, spent about $45K to pay fishermen for retrieval and to cover some of the reimbursable costs and when the HFMA turned around and sold the retrieved traps back to the original owners, they earned $25,805 which they put into an Escrow account to support future gear recovery efforts.
So this program was successful enough that we started to field inquiries from other parts of the coast. There was an interest in continuing the work in the North coast, but there were parts further down the coast also interested in getting involved. So we applied for funding from the Marine Debris Program and continued our partnerships with the HMFA but then also expanded and partnered with the Commercial Fishing Association of Bodega Bay (CFABB) and this time around, having gone through the pilot effort and having had success with that, we tried some new strategies. We set just one price per trap whether pulled or pumped. We decided not to continue fuel reimbursement to the retrievers. For those retrievers who had already been working on the projects, we did not place project staff on the boat as an observer. And then the fisherman themselves handled all of the gear sales back to original owners.
This is kind of a dense slide, I apologize for that, but it does kind of itemize or describe the result of this NOAA funded effort. On the North coast, again partnered with HMFA in fall 2015 and 2106. We worked with a couple different crab fishermen who retrieved 326 traps in 10 days of effort. Those traps represented gear lost by 28 different permit holders and of those 326 traps, 243 were returned to owners. Only 16 were purchased and 83 traps were recycled. In the San Francisco Bay area, with HMFA brokering this effort in fall 2015, we worked with 3 new fishermen who recovered 200 traps in 6 days, this is in fall 2015. Of those 215 traps belonging to 54 different permit holders and 128 of those traps were returned to the owners, with most of those being purchased back by the original owners and 72 traps were recycled. And then this last fall, again in the San Francisco Bay area, we had our agreement set up with CFABB, working with a couple of their members, they spent just 3 days in the water and retrieved 33 traps, 4 of which were returned to owners but not purchased, and 29 were recycled. You all asked us to list or think about what were our particular successes or challenges. So just listing here, the quantity of gear retrieved, the number of crabs that were released back to the ocean, an estimation of the sea floor that was cleaned up, the numbers of fisherman involved, and this is all right here. But I wanted to focus on the challenge, the fact that our fisherman’s association partners really did not earn funds in selling gear back to original owners as had gone so well in our pilot project. And this was in part because first of all, word kind of got with the fishing community that is wasn’t requirement to pay for the gear, as well there was one effort on the north coast where a huge number of traps were retrieved for a particular fisherman who had unfortunately undergone a family tragedy and had not been able to go out and get his own pots. So this was done by one of our fishermen and the association itself decided not to charge him.
This was kind of how things were going when as you all know, I don’t need to tell you, there was a big up-kick in the last couple of years in the entanglements of large whales in commercial fishing gear off the U.S. West coast. These are figures pulled from NMFS report 2016 West Coast Entanglement Summary. There were 71 whales in 2016 and of those, 33 of 47 where they could identify the gear, the gear was Dungeness crab gear.
So this prompted the Dungeness Crab Task Force to advocate for and work with the state senator to draft Senate Bill 1287, the Whale Protection in Crab Gear Retrieval Act, which was signed by the governor last fall and basically allows the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CA DFW) to permit gear retrieval and also allows them to require that a fee be charged to permit holders for derelict traps that are recovered. They are in the process of figuring to how to set that fee at a level that allows for being able to cover the cost of the regulatory program and compensate fishermen who recover lost traps. We are currently in the process of helping the CA DFW develop a plan for implementation and the Dungeness Crab Task Force continues to coordinate Dungeness crab working group.
That’s it in a nutshell and I think I hit my 10 minute mark and wanted to leave time for questions, I’m very happy to field those.
Jenna: Thank you so much Kirsten, that was really interesting, really great numbers, good to see. We would like to open it up to anybody on the line ask questions.
Q: Was it determined that most of the entanglements were in derelict gear?
A: Are you talking about the large whale?
A: No. I was just at the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission workshop on the particular topic last month. The point we all discussed is that it’s really impossible to know whether the gear the whales are getting entangled in was legally deployed in season and they got tangled in it, and of course the minute it’s on a whale, its derelict, it’s not fishing anymore. It has been difficult to tell that.
Q: But the incentive for the legislation was to allow for permitted recovery, was this prompted by the number of entanglements?
A: I can’t speak for the fishermen, but I do know that first of all, they knew it was the right thing to do because there shouldn’t be a large amount of gear being left in the water by their fishery and I think that there was concern that if they weren’t being proactive about it as a problem, that there was going to be an even higher level of scrutiny on the fishery and so first and foremost, the impetus was to do the right thing. But I think on the background being that there was also a higher level of attention now being paid to fishing gear in the ocean and how it’s impacting marine mammals. I hope that answered the question.
Q: Yeah, I just didn’t know what it was a direct correlation between…
A: It was really more the fact that with the pilot effort that proved to be effective and have so much buy-in from the fleet, that there was an opportunity to do something bigger, more permanent and sustainable.
Q: It looked the removal numbers were decreasing year on year. Is that a function of there being fewer traps on the bottom?
A: Yeah, the trouble with the state over is of course we had the domoic acid closures and significant delay in the opening of the fishery, so there was just not nearly as much gear in the water during the season as in normal years. That’s what we ascribe it to. I think there is also stepped up effort on the part of DFW, their enforcement division, so DFW was also recovering gear which was great. There is a group of fishermen down working out of Half Moon Bay that were also engaged in derelict pot recovery work and so there was some areas that we had worked in the previous year that they had also worked on. But I think that the real issue is that there was not nearly as much gear in the water during the 2015-2016 season.
Q: Thank you and I guess one follow-up, for the gear that you’re pulling up, is there any sense of how long it’s been sitting on the bottom?
A: No, we don’t. Sort of subjectively, we have a sense of whether is was gear from the previous seasons or been out there much longer, depending on how much growth there is on the buoy and the line.
Q: Is there not a year tag on each crab pot?
A: There is, but we don’t record that in our log. So, it would be good bit of information to be collecting going forward for sure.
Great, thank you.
Q: This is Jenna, real quick question. For the whale entanglements, you said you identified 31 out of 47 as Dungeness crab gear…
A: We didn’t, NOAA did, I was just taking the data from their report.
Q: I was just curious what other fisheries you have out there that might be an entanglement issue? I’m not very familiar with the California coast.
A: Well, of course these whales are showing up on our coasts, but they’re not necessarily getting entangled off the California coast. Of course we have big purse-seine fisheries and other trap fisheries, like lobster trap fisheries down in southern California. I can go to my copy of that report and see what they were saying, again, this was West Coast wide. Fishery type: Dungeness crab, gillnets, spot prawns, sable fish, Dungeness crab recreational, spiny lobster fishery were the fishery types they could identify. But by far the most were the Dungeness crab commercial fishery.
Ok, thank you.
Any other questions?
Q: I have another question if there is some blank time to fill here.
A: Yes, we have another minute before we switch over so go ahead.
Q: Thank you. One of my challenges with the project we have is the perception of there being a bounty on these traps and the proprietary nature of the fishery. I wondered if you had encountered any of that with the crab fishery – whether they don’t try to lose the gear, but then have to pay to recover it. Just curious if there has been any challenge there. Is it seen as bounty hunt, or begrudging having to pay for their own property.
A: I have heard through the grapevine that there is a certain portion of the fleet is very concerned about us Bill 1287, because they’re concerned about being required to pay for any of their traps that are retrieved, so yes, there is a certain amount of concern and I think that is what the DFW is grappling with as they figure out how they’re going to implement it. But I think it was also the fact that there were fisherman going through the effort of doing gear retrieval and this is all happening outside of the season. When our initial model looked to be going in a good direction in terms of return on investment and making it something that would be somewhat self-sustaining, but in this last go-round, that was not the case and that was in part because there was no requirement that fisherman pay for any of their gear that was retrieved. That was part of the impetus I think behind drafting of the legislation that the Dungeness crab task force advocated for. It doesn’t mean that all crab fisherman were behind that.
Great, thank you so much! I’m going to switch over to Ladd – are you on the line?
Ladd: Thank you guys so much for having me. My name is Ladd Bayliss, I work with the North Carolina Coastal Federation. Today I was going to talk about our lost fishing gear recovery project. This project has gone on since 2014, through various sources of funding. Today, I’m going to focus on our most recent efforts in 2016-2017. But before we get there, just talk through the history briefly.
As I said, this project began back in 2014, with funding from NC Sea Grant and NOAA Marine Debris Program. We basically started this program as a pilot project, we felt we had a lot of concepts to prove and a short time to prove it. So we asked to begin with the basics. We wanted to prove that fishermen could pick up crab pots during the closed period. In North Carolina there is a period in the winter, January 15-Feb 7 where anything left in the water as far as pots go, they are considered illegally set and can therefore be removed. Typically, historically, this is done by marine patrol, which is kind of our marine enforcement body under the Division of Marine Fisheries, which has been efficient as far as anyone can tell, but we believe that if the state would allow agents of the state, as we would call them, i.e. commercial fisherman, to do this work, we would be able to find more pots using both groups. So, with this funding we were able to complete a successful pilot project in the first 2 years, 2014 & 2015 in one part of the state, the northeastern part of North Carolina. After this success we received another round of NOAA Marine Debris Program funding and moved into our second two year set of work.
In 2016, we continued funding and stuck with our pilot area in the northeast part of the state and after the cleanup that occurred in January, we had been working with some politicians in the state government and in the fall of last year, we got news that we had received $100K from the state to continue this pilot program, but on top of the past 3 cleanup seasons, we had the money to expand state-wide.
Before I get into the nuts and bolts of the program and how it works, this is a really good chart to show the background of this project over time. This is a chart that shows how pots, derelict crab pots, have been collected in the state since 2003. As I said before, North Carolina marine patrol is typically responsible for this collection. You can see if you look to the far right column, the total, that number has significantly declined, there’s a declining trend over the years, which is interesting to look at because it basically points to you know, less lost crab pots being in the water, which we attribute mainly to cost. Back in 2003, crab pots were $15/pot, today they are nearly $45/pot. So that increase in cost we believe has led to less fishermen simply leaving their gear out because they would not incur a large financial loss if they did that. The other important part of this that helps to delineate where our program has taken place as the cells that are yellow, they outline the years that this project has been completed. As you can see on the far left column, District 1 which is the northeastern district where the pilot project has occurred for the past four years, obviously it’s been done longer than the rest of the state, which was just competed in that is past January in 2017.
For this program, for the past 4 seasons, we’ve conducted it with basically two components. There is a shoreline cleanup component and then of course the water cleanup. The idea here is to essentially kickoff the project during the no-potting period once the water is closed. Before the watermen get on the water to go and look for pots, we have shoreline cleanups where we get volunteers to go to local popular areas that need cleaning up, as a way to boost the awareness and the engagement of the program outside of the group of fisherman that do the work. Next comes the water cleanup where obviously fishermen go out to retrieve the gear.
This past year in January, the shoreline cleanup as I said, as this project went statewide, we collected over 3.5 tons of gear just on our one-day shoreline cleanup which occurred in 3 different coastal areas in North Carolina. In one day, again, nearly 140 volunteers, which was a great kick-off to the project. As we moved into the water cleanup, we began hiring fisherman as soon as we were sure of our funding in October of last year. The whole point with this cleanup is to let the fishermen decide where their cleanup is going to take place. We obviously have general ideas of where pots are and what areas we need fisherman in and that depends on where we hire fisherman from, but the guiding principle behind this project is that we’re hiring waterman for a reason because of their natal knowledge and inherent knowledge about the waters, the way they move and how that knowledge points them to where most pots end up and can be retrieved. This obviously was an incredible scaling up compared to previous years. The fisherman worked for 2.5 weeks, we hired 72 fisherman whereas past years had been a handful of a dozen. Three districts improved form our three year pilot project of just one district with over a million acres of water covered. We pay fisherman $400/boat/day. We require two fisherman/boat. This year was, as you could see back in the graph that I showed in the beginning, we collected a significant number of pots, over 4000 pots, which is the most that has been collected in over a decade. Again, looking at 2016-2017 numbers, over 35 tons, and about half of that was recycled.
In addition to asking fisherman to simply look for buoyed pots left behind, we have had a side-scan sonar component with money from the NOAA Marine Debris Program, we were able to buy some of these units to give to fisherman. It has been a very interesting piece of this project, difficult in some ways which I will talk about later on. Just so you know, this is one of the technology components that we use to look for pots without buoys that were still on the bottom but not visible from the water’s surface.
(next slide – unable to see)
Another piece of technology that we use, that any of you that are involved in this type of work, if you are looking for some kind of program to help you along in data collection, this has worked really well for us. We have used the Cybertracker program working in conjunction with NC Sea Grant who initially found it. It is a free program that you install on a digital Samsung tablet and it uses the internal GPS of the device and can collect waypoints and any other data that comes from a program that you create in a very simple form and doesn’t require any cell phone signal or Wi-Fi. This program was created in the middle of Africa several years ago to employ native bushmen and give them a career essentially in tracking and translating that local knowledge. So this program has worked really well. As you can see from this map, this free program generates these maps. As you can see, each dot represents a crab pot that was retrieved. So you have great data from the beginning that is all entered and cataloged perfectly as well as tracks. You can obviously see in these different areas, the little lines between the dots is a live GPS track of where each fisherman went to find the pots. It also provides a little bit of accountability as well. As you can a see a closer view.
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This is the state-wide map for pots that were retrieved this year. As you can see, the previous map covered the depiction of what was found in years past. This is, as you can see, a very large scaling-up of this effort which nearly tripled the amount of pots that we were able to retrieve. Again, each yellow dot represents a crab pot and is difficult to see in areas where there are pots essentially on top of each other.
**At this point, realized that the presentation was not being broadcasted successfully. Ladd finished her presentation orally without visuals**
Question during pause: How many commercial crab fishermen are there in North Carolina?
A: Last time I looked, between 3000-4000, that’s off the top of my head. But again, those are license holders, but not every commercial license is a crabber.
Q: How many pots are they allowed to fish?
A: There aren’t any pot limits in North Carolina currently, so typically there is no requirement when you purchase a commercial license to list how many pots you fish or if you’re going to be using a gillnet or a crab pot. It is very different from other states as there are no pot limits.
Ladd: The average number of pots that were retrieved per boat per district. In the Northern part of the state there is a much greater proportion, by at least two fold, of commercial fisherman, compared to other parts of the state. Because this project has been conducted in that area for the past three years and only expanded state-wide just recently, we basically found very clearly that proportionally, the fishermen in the other two districts were collecting many more pots than our District 1 fisherman because this type of cleanup using fisherman had not occurred ever. We see that as a positive trend. Moving on to the rest of the data we collected using this program. First and foremost, the most important thing we are looking for is waypoint information, where these pots are being pulled so we can gather further information. Prevention moving forward, how we can prevent the loss from occurring. In addition to that, we collected data on the condition of the pot as well as what was inside of the pot. We had about 46% of the pots that we collected did not have any bycatch in them and the majority of crabs that were found in the pots were alive and released. This is depicted in the graphs that you can’t see. Essentially, the successes that we experienced with this project is that technology is important. We experienced that with the Cybertracker program as well as the side-scan sonar to a degree. Again, watermen have inherent knowledge of this type of work that marine patrol agents and the general public don’t have. But when we work with these groups in conjunction - waterman, marine patrol, non-profits, it seems to garner a more successful project. Also, we learned that the state is trying to continue to support this work. Our first round of $100K was not recurring and the legislature is working to make the funding recurring in this session. Some of the challenges, year after year we realize that using the side-scan sonar is difficult with the limited time that we do have. It’s a very great technology but again, but the no-potting period is a very short amount of time comparatively speaking, and the learning curve for the side-scan sonar is pretty high. So we’re trying to find ways to work through that by giving fisherman these units to work with throughout the year. Another challenge, like our first presenter outlined, how do you continually fund this project moving forward, it’s a constant question. Each area of this project is different and it’s hard to manage it moving forward across the state in such different regions. Moving forward, we’re looking at ownership over the long term and how we’re going to make sure that each fisherman continues to get paid and invest in their resource. I’m happy to take any questions right now, sorry that you could not see the rest of my presentation.
Q: Your numbers of recovery are really impressive, I’m just curious what’s the percentage of buoyed vs. unbuoyed pots? You mentioned you started using a Humminbird, which we’re going to end up talking a little bit about, most of our work has used that. Just wanted to hear a little bit more about that and how many of those pots needed to be recovered through those methods vs. buoyed pots.
A: Because of a lot of different factors, mainly weather, the middle of January in North Carolina is often challenging, which makes the use of side-scan sonar difficult. We definitely, by and large, collected more pots with just looking for buoys. The side-scan did not retrieve a large number of pots this year. I can go back and get the number, but it was a handful and we’re using Garmin units this year.
Q: What is the typical depth that you are working in?
A: Up in the northeast, we’re averaging 11 ft. As we move farther south, it’s much shallower, so it’s not a lot of water, but a lot of water movement, if that makes sense.
Jenna: Ladd, thank you so much, we really appreciate it. I’m sorry about the technical difficulties again. Maybe there is a way we can get some of your figures out to the folks that were with us today. We’re going to move on to our last presentation. I’m going to mute the conference. We’re very excited to hear from Dr. Mark Sullivan and Steve Evert from Stockton University about their crab pot removal in New Jersey.
Mark: Great, thanks Jenna. Before we get started, I just wanted to acknowledge the other co-principal investigators that were involved in this project. Of course our commercial crabber partners that we’ve been working with over the last 5-6 years, Stockton University Marine Field Station support, dozens and dozens of undergraduate students have been involved in this project over the last couple of years, and then of course we’d like to acknowledge the generous support from the NOAA Marine Debris Removal Program.
So I think most folks are probably familiar with some of the larger derelict fishing gear projects that have been completed in areas like Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, but sometimes crab pot loss goes undocumented or a little bit underappreciated in smaller estuary systems. Some of the coastal bays that we’ve been working with in southern New Jersey are quite shallow and have a complicated mix of sediment types. Some of these are often muddy or very soft and it’s difficult to pluck some of these pieces of fishing gear out of this sediment type. Most of this loss occurs where recreational boating intersects with commercial and/or recreational crabbing activities. One of the big benefits of this project has been partnering with the commercial crabbing industry. At this point, we’ve recovered upwards of 2200 pots as part of this project.
All of our projects have the same set of objectives so I’ll go through these quickly. Objective 1 is to identify ghost pots with a scientific grade side-scan sonar, map the hot spots that result from that survey, and then create waypoint files that can be transitioned over to our commercial crabber partners. All of our partners are trained on low-cost sonar units, i.e. Humminbirds and other similar systems. And all of our crabber partners are working from their own small vessels, so they tend to be less than 28 feet and they typically don’t have larger A-frames and somewhat limited hauling capacity. Hopefully, in Objective 2, recover ghost pots, identify associated bycatch species, and then recycle/reuse fishable pots and hopefully put some of these pots back in the system for our commercial partners. Objective 3 revolves around constantly trying to maximize the efficiency of our projects, so find ways that we can recover more pots from the water and less time looking for pots. And then the final component of this is educating boaters, recreational and commercial crabbers, as to the various issues surrounding derelict fishing gear and really trying to break the cycle of gear loss so that 5-10 years down the road we don’t have to repeat these recovery efforts again.
Any folks out there that are interested in setting up a similar recovery type project in their own shallow estuary system, we have a couple of steps that we want to share with folks. One is that you have to have a good idea of where the loss is occurring and this can be either commercial or recreational crab pots, but for the most part, most of the loss is occurring around well-traveled waterways, docks, marinas, water-front restaurants, and things of that nature.
But you just can’t go by your intuition so typically you need to do a scientific-grade side-scan sonar survey. This gives you a little bit more confidence in your IDs so that when your commercial crabbers are going out on their recovery efforts, they are targeting actual pots rather than natural debris that might be on the bottom. You always want to have the best position data available so that your commercial crabber partners aren’t spending a lot time looking for the pots. You want to send them out to a waypoint and minimize the amount of time they are spending actually recovering the pots.
Step 3, transfer the waypoints to the low-cost sonar units, Humminbirds, etc.
And of course you have to train your recovery team and preferably you want to work with industry partners. We found this to be a really rewarding aspect of the project over the last 5-7 years. Training involves getting folks familiar with the different pieces of equipment, having preset instruments, limiting the options that are available, spending a good amount of time understanding the imagery so that the commercial partners are able definitively ID crab pots as opposed to some other item that might be on the bottom. And then you also want to end this with on the water training so that everyone gets the sense of issues related to currents and tides and how those can impact recovery efforts.
We’ve really tried to reduce the amount of time that our commercial crabber partners are recording data in the field so anything that you can do to speed up the recovery process and limit the data collection is beneficial. One of the things that we’ve done is we streamlined this to the point where when folks are out in the field, they are taking a photo of the crab pot, a photo of the bycatch and then additional data is typically collected down the road on land, typically by undergraduate students that are involved in the project.
Step 5 is to process your recovered crab pots. We have a crab pot processing day every spring where our commercial partners, scientists, colleagues, volunteers, undergraduate students, get together, disassemble pots that are not going to be put back into the fishery and set aside those pots that are deemed fishable. There’s a nice image at the bottom here of pots that were recovered as part of this effort and are now being deployed back into the fishery with a considerable amount of cost savings involved for the commercial community.
What I’d like to do now is turn things over to Steve Evert and Steve’s going to really get into the nitty gritty about the on the water recovery efforts.
Steve: Thank you Mark and thanks everybody for being with us today, and for Jenna and everybody at NOAA for putting this together.
The derelict gear that we’re talking about here is primarily unbuoyed pots, most of what we’re talking about does have to do with the sonar work, which does present quite a few challenges. But once you get past those challenges, there are some benefits that we’re beginning to realize for the commercial fishermen, which I’ll hit on at the end.
Pretty much all recovery efforts have some common needs. One is that you see, I’d say a strong target, when we’re talking acoustically, we want to be certain that it is a crab pot or a piece of fishing gear, not a piece of sod bank or piece of marsh. There are opportunities in some systems, and I’m sure you’ve seen it in North Carolina and in some of the other states in smaller estuaries, where you do have opportunities with the low tides, blow out tides in the winter, to do some visual surveys, to do some visual recovery of unbuoyed pots that go dry or bare on a low tide. Most of our work has been underwater through sonar recovery. See a target, mark a target. We use a buoy to mark our targets when necessary, and then recover the target. So all of our projects have these common needs.
These are some of the tools that we’ve ended up with. There’s been some modifications over the years for the type of work that we’re doing, for the type of loss that we have in our system. There’s no more valuable tool than the low-cost sonar. We use Humminbird, North Carolina I think you said you’re using Garmin, they’re getting pretty common in the recreational fishing community and they can be pretty valuable instruments. A buoy to mark the target. So when we see a target we will mark it with a buoy. Not much longer line than the water depth you’re working in, and by the way, we’re working in generally 3-4 to maybe 10 ft of water, something like that in most of our areas. Single grapple hooks, literally just a grapple hook, we do bend the hook a little bit vertical than what you get out of the box, with a long amount of line. And then we also use daisy chains of hooks that are rigged through the line. If anybody ends up with questions about this gear, we can talk about it later. We’re more than happy to take calls after today.
See the buoy, whether it’s usually acoustically, mark it with a buoy, so if you see a target at say 10 ft to your starboard side, yell 10 ft or if you see it yourself, throw a buoy. Now you have a visual marker on the surface of the water that is reasonably close to your known target. Some of our partners prefer to use the longer daisy chain method where they’ll circle that buoy. When we hook a pot, usually it just about stops the boat and I’ll talk more about that. Most of our pots are at least in the sediment a few inches if not more. And we’ve also come to start to throw individual grapples. Sometimes we can do that without buoying, especially in dense areas.
So this kind of leads to this, see it and snag it, type of scenario. Best case scenario for a good day of recovery, works especially well in dense areas. Works well with high quality survey data from earlier efforts. Basically we have two grapple hooks ready at the back of the boat, see in the bottom right picture, a grapple hanging there on the transom that has probably 40 feet of line on it. Depending on how many people you’re working with or what you’re boat set-up is, basically you have people ready to throw those grapples. If you are fortunate enough to literally split the pot, which that top left image is just that, where the transducer went directly over top of the target, and you saw it on both sides, you can literally just throw that grapple right off the back and I’d say 7/10 times you’d get it on your first attempt. If its a few feet to the right like the lower image, that is also attainable by just tossing the grapple in that general direction. And I added a little note here, this year in particular we started using a bow mounted transducer, so we took the transducer from a Humminbird, made a basically fold-up wooden, you could do it out of aluminum, whatever, mount that went off of the bow. The advantage of that in doing sonar recovery is that it gives you that 20 ft lead time. So if you’re working out of a 20 ft center consul for instance and you have a bow mounted transducer and you split that pot or come close to splitting that pot, you’re just dropping your grapple hooks off the back and maybe making a little adjustment with the boat or what have you, and that has worked pretty well for us. If anybody wants more information about that, again we’re happy to talk a little bit more after today’s conference, individually.
If we had to sum up some of the keys to our success in recovering these pots using sonar, technique 1 is that we feel it is very important to conduct broad, professional grade side-scan sonar surveys. We do that as the science-side, we do that type of work at Stockton. We’ll spend several days surveying coastal bays and putting together the waypoints and then we do our recoveries at a later date. This helps identify hot spots. If you’re sending commercial partners being paid $300-400 a day to an area that doesn’t have fairly dense pots, they’re going to be looking for an awful long time with a little hummingbird sonar to find a pot. You’ve got to get them good waypoint information to increase that efficiency. Understanding the recovery challenges of some systems. I don’t know if they see this in North Carolina, I suspect they might, but one of the things that we have in these soft sediment systems is our pots are literally in the mud, sometimes a few inches, sometimes half of a pot has vibrated into the soft sediment through storm events. This is especially true of the older legacy pots. Those do not just come right out of the bottom. We’re using small boats, you need to use low speed. If you don’t use these methods, you’re going to end up just ripping through, getting frustrated, not getting the whole pot out of the water. It makes it more difficult, but to truly get the gear out of the water, it’s what needs to be done. That picture in the middle is one of our fisherman towing a pot in a circle to get the sometimes hundred pounds of mud out of the pot before being able to physically bring it on the boat. Now that’s not every pot, but it can be quite a few so it’s important to know that. And as both of the other projects have mentioned, and Mark mentioned earlier, partnering with the commercial community is extremely beneficial. These guys and girls know where the areas of loss likely are, they know what they’re doing on the bay, obviously. We train them on how to use the sonars, we hire them to work on our project. We on our most recent project were paying $350/day for this type of work. But probably one of the best things that has come out of our project and come out of using the sonars is our trained partners, maybe they put in 15-20 days each on the project, they know how to use that Humminbird sonar and as wary of it as they are on Day 1, they love it now because during the season, they’re taking the time to recover probably 80, attempting to recover any of their lost pots and in most cases, recovering about 80% of their lost pots during the season. We believe that is the most effective way 1) to help commercial fisherman by them not losing gear and not losing money, and 2) to break the cycle of lost gear in systems like this. This really hinges on the Humminbird aspect of our work in particular.
Just a couple of things we’ve been able transfer some of these programs to other funded projects in the area. This is just a quick bullet list of some of the benefits. We’ve had two funding cycles through NOAA, kind of a timeline of how we got into all of this. We benefited a lot from the Chesapeake group, Kirk Havens and others. When we first started, we developed a lot of our own techniques, made a lot of partnerships with the fishermen, and there’s some of the numbers. We put about over $60K worth of direct pay or returned gear into relatively small commercial fishing community in south New Jersey, over 2000 pots, other projects, undergraduate research, all sorts of good things have come of this program to date.
This is another thing that’s come from our first project and is being worked on by another group now as well, Jacques Cousteau Reserve, and that’s the WeCrab NJ website. I encourage you to go check that website out, we have some recovery resources on there, videos from our earlier efforts, and that website is actually set to be updated quite a bit in the next little bit and there will be even more recovery resources on that website. Feel free please to reach out to Mark and I if you have questions about working in these types of environments and certainly check out WeCrab and thank you NOAA for today and for the funding. With that, we’ll take any questions.
Jenna: Does anybody have questions for Mark and Steve? I will say that they just had a very successful Earth Day pot processing day where they went through about 600 pots and were able to recycle about 50-55 of them and got a lot students and everything involved. Really great, good successful event. If there are no questions right now, I want to thank all of our presenters for joining us today and we really appreciate you taking the time to share your projects with us. We will be planning to hold another Marine Debris Program webinar probably in the fall to talk about prevention projects. Thank you all for joining, have a great afternoon.