Building a Self-Sustaining Fishermen-Led Gear Recovery Program in California

The F/V Drake filled with derelict crab pots collected by local fishermen, including Andy Guiliano (pictured).
The F/V Drake filled with derelict crab pots collected by local fishermen, including Andy Guiliano (pictured). (Photo Credit: The SeaDoc Society)

The NOAA Marine Debris Program and the University of California, Davis (UC Davis) partnered to expand a fishermen-led Dungeness crab derelict gear recovery program, with the intention of making it a self-sustaining effort.

Type of Project: Community-based Marine Debris Removal Grant

Region: California

Project Dates: July 2015 - September 2017

Who is involved?
With the support of a NOAA Marine Debris Program Community-based Marine Debris Removal Grant, the SeaDoc Society at the University of California, Davis (UC Davis) partnered with the Humboldt Fishermen’s Marketing Association (HFMA) to expand a port-based, fishermen-led lost commercial Dungeness crab gear recovery and recycling program for the North Coast of California.

What is the project and why is it important?
The Dungeness crab fishery is one of the most valuable commercial fisheries in California. Over the past twenty years, the average annual harvest has been more than 15 million pounds, with the majority of the landings made in Eureka, Crescent City, San Francisco, and Bodega Bay. In this region, crab pots are lost during the commercial crab season due to the high-energy coastal environment which can move, sand-in, and separate pots from lines and floats. Derelict crab pots can damage sensitive habitats, create navigational hazards, and can capture various marine species including harvestable crabs, resulting in potential lost catch opportunities and financial losses for fishermen. Additionally, pots still attached to buoy lines can present entanglement hazards to wildlife, with the entanglement of large whales being of particularly high concern in the region.

To address this issue of derelict pots, commercial fishermen worked on the water during the closed crabbing season to recover more than 750 lost and abandoned crab pots from Northern and Central California coastal waters, restoring over 8,000 square feet of seafloor habitat. The fishermen sold the recovered crab pots back to the HFMA, who then sold the recovered gear to the original owners at a fleet-agreed price per trap. The proceeds were then deposited into an escrow account to support the program in future seasons. This project built upon a previously supported effort, expanding the project area to include new partners in the Bodega Bay and San Francisco ports.

This innovative recovery and recycling program worked with fishermen to build investments in ocean restoration for the benefit of both the environment and the fishing community. As part of this project, UC Davis and HFMA worked with local ports, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and state legislators to identify a mechanism to fund the program on a more permanent basis.