Partner Profile: Ghost busters -spring 2009

Fishing gear at the bottom of Puget Sound catches a lot more than fish. Just one net can yield hundreds of crabs and fish, several seabirds and even a marine mammal. How did it all get there? Over many years of sport and commercial fishing in Puget Sound, some gear is inevitably lost—the problem is that nets and pots on the sea floor continue ‘ghost fishing’ indiscriminately, damaging marine resources and impacting sustainability of the fishing industry.

“Derelict nets create these mini-ecosystems that continuously draw more organisms to feed on those stuck in or below the net,” says Tom Good, Research Biologist at NOAA Fisheries and collaborator with Natural Resources Consultants and the Northwest Straits Commission on the derelict gear project. “Seabirds, mostly cormorants, are inevitably caught in this chain, although after a few months of decay it can be hard to tell—that’s why the COASST guide is such an important resource.”

With a goal of locating, removing and disposing of the majority of the derelict gear in Puget Sound by 2012, the Northwest Straits Commission has partnered with recreational and commercial fishermen, tribes, and a host of state and federal agencies to involve all stakeholders in this winwin process. “The no fault reporting system allows anyone who has lost gear or finds gear to report it,” says Ginny Broadhurst, Director of the Northwest Straits Commission. To date, more than 972 nets have been removed by project divers.

Derelict Gear Project

The derelict gear project has removed more than 510 birds-like the loon pictured here-from abandoned nets found at the bottom of Puget Sound. (K. Antonelis)