Commercial fishers needed for lost fishing gear recovery

Published 10:25 am Thursday, December 7, 2023

The North Carolina Coastal Federation is set to begin its 10th year of the Lost Fishing Gear Recovery Project in January 2024. Before the effort can get underway, the federation needs the help of commercial watermen and women along the northern and central coast to sign up to help find and collect lost crab pots.

“Every year, crab pots and other fishing gear are lost in our sounds in a variety of ways. Lost gear can get hung up or drift into channels, creating serious hazards to boaters, wildlife, and other fishermen,” stated NCCF. “Since 2014, the Federation has led the Lost Fishing Gear Recovery Project to remove lost crab pots from North Carolina sounds.”

With the help of various partners, commercial fishermen and women are hired to collect the pots during the annual closure of internal coastal waters to all crab, eel, fish and shrimp pots, from January 1- 31, north of the Highway 58 bridge to Emerald Isle.

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Those interested in taking part in helping to remove the lost fishing gear – mainly crab pots – can apply on the federation’s website at bit.ly/3sYHnny. Applications are being accepted through December 15, 2023. To be considered, captains must have a valid North Carolina standard commercial fishing license.

In 2023, commercial watermen and women in partnership with N.C. Marine Patrol removed 2,122 pots from select areas within three Marine Patrol Districts. The 2024 project will take place in select areas within Marine Patrol District 1, which covers the northeast region of the coast, and District 2, which covers the central region of the coast.

“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 during the project will be available for the rightful property owners to reclaim after the cleanup is complete,” stated NCCF.

This project is funded by the N.C. Commercial Fishing Resource Fund Grant Program and is intended to improve habitat and water quality and support coastal economies. “This project is very important for keeping the waterways clean and safe from debris. We’re able to locate gear that has been lost in storms and strong blows and get it returned to the rightful owners,” shared Chad Hemilright, a project participant whose homeport is in Kitty Hawk.

Sara Hallas, coastal education coordinator for the federation and project leader, said she is most grateful for the community partnerships that enable this program to continue to clean up the waterways and create opportunities for work during the winter. “I admire how this project brings so many different groups together to clean up the sounds and waterways for everyone’s benefit. I’m thankful we have funding to continue this project as it focuses on a specific category of debris. We’re able to rely on the expertise of the working watermen and have proven successful year after year.”

“This project is part of the Federation’s overall effort to ensure the North Carolina coast is free of marine debris. Establishing an annual paid program for marine debris removal – including crab pots – is a key objective of the N.C. Marine Debris Strategic Plan,” stated NCCF. “Through field surveys, marine debris cleanup crews reported over 85% of the debris removed from North Carolina’s estuaries between 2019-2022 is the result of damaged and/or lost docks, piers, boat houses, and similar structures.

“The Federation will be working on preventative strategies in the coming year as part of a major goal to create a coastal environment free of marine debris.”

For more information on the progress of the Lost Fishing Gear Recovery Project over the past years, go to nccoast.org/project/crabpotproject/.

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