Working with the National Towboat Network to Remove Large Derelict Gear

Photos of a derelict net on a boat.

The BoatU.S. Foundation and the NOAA Marine Debris Program worked together to remove a derelict vessel and three large commercial nets from Lake Erie and Ocean City, Maryland.

Type of Project: Community-based Marine Debris Removal Grant

Region: Mid-Atlantic & Great Lakes

Project Dates: August 2015 - October 2017

Who is involved?
The BoatU.S. Foundation, with the support of a NOAA Marine Debris Program Community-based Marine Debris Removal Grant, worked with two TowBoatU.S. towing and salvage partners—TowBoatU.S. Ocean City/Maryland Coast Towing Inc. and a TowBoatU.S. partner in the Great Lakes Region—to remove two large nets from Ocean City, Maryland, and to remove a derelict vessel from Lake Erie. The BoatU.S. Foundation also partnered with the Ocean City Reef Foundation and Ohio Sea Grant to monitor the impact of the debris removal and to identify and inventory species entangled in the derelict nets.

What is the project and why is it important?
Fishing gear and abandoned and derelict vessels (ADVs) litter our nation’s coastal waterways and have both ecological and economic impacts. ADVs can become hazardous to navigation, leech harmful chemicals, and breakdown into smaller debris, while derelict gear can damage sensitive habitats, entangle marine animals, create navigational hazards, and continue to catch harvestable species—a phenomenon called ghost fishing—resulting in lost catch opportunities and financial losses for fishermen. This project combated the damaging impacts of ADVs and derelict nets by removing items identified as priority by the local boating communities in Ohio and Ocean City, Maryland.

In Ocean City, two large nets had been entangled at two locations on offshore shipwrecks, which serve as popular diving sites. BoatU.S. worked with Maryland Coast Towing Inc. to remove and dispose of the two nets, estimated at five tons each. BoatU.S. also worked with the Ocean City Reef Foundation to collect information about the nets and their removal. They worked to identify all species that are found entangled in the nets, and conducted side scan sonar and underwater photography before and after the net removal to document their impacts on the habitat.

The project also removed a vessel from within Lake Erie near Toledo, Ohio. There are many protected areas along the coast of Lake Erie, including Maumee Bay State Park, Cedar National Wildlife Refuge, and Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge. BoatU.S. worked with TowBoatU.S. operators and other partners in the region to remove a vessel and alleviate impacts to these sensitive areas. BoatU.S. worked with Ohio Sea Grant to conduct side scan sonar and underwater video before and after the removal to document the impacts of the debris items on the habitat.