UPDATE: This article has been edited to reflect updated crab pot numbers.
A fleet of boats crewed by 72 commercial watermen spread out along the North Carolina coast in January and collected 4,304 lost crab pots as part of the Lost Fishing Gear Recovery Project, which is a statewide effort to remove lost crab pots from North Carolina coastal waters.
This effort is led by the North Carolina Coastal Federation in partnership with North Carolina Sea Grant, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Marine Debris Program and N.C. Marine Patrol.
“Removing these crab pots cleans up the public trust resource and puts our local fishermen to work,” said Ladd Bayliss, coastal advocate for the federation and leader of the project.
This project began in 2014 with funding from the NOAA Marine Debris Program to recover crab pots from Marine Patrol District 1, or northeastern North Carolina waters from the Virginia line to Ocracoke.
In 2016, the North Carolina General Assembly appropriated money to this project to facilitate a statewide expansion and hire greater numbers of commercial fishermen starting in January 2017. This funding was administered by Sea Grant. The 2017 project began Jan. 18 and took place within all three Marine Patrol districts covering all internal coastal waters, thanks to the additional funding.
The number of pots that were recovered during the 2017 project is over double the amount of crab pots that were collected in 2014, 2015 and 2016 combined.
“It was very exciting to see this become a statewide effort,” Bayliss said. “Without the ongoing support of our partners, local communities and the commercial fishermen we hire each year, this accomplishment wouldn’t have been possible.”
The Lost Fishing Gear Recovery Project takes place during the no-potting period when all crab pots must be removed from the water.
Because of their experiences from working on the water, the fishermen are able to predict movements of the sounds and in turn find potential lost crab pot hotspots.
“The commercial fishermen hired to work on this project are great advocates for a clean sound. My hope is that this project continues annually to help both the resource and our fishermen,” Bayliss said.
Other collaborators on this project include the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries and Dare County Public Works.
Check out this video by Chris Hannant of Swell Productions, featuring a few of the watermen we worked with for this project: