The Crab Pots that Got Away

By Molly Bogeberg, Marine Conservation Coordinator

When a crabber casts a crab pot overboard from a vessel, he or she expects to come back and retrieve a pot full of tasty Dungeness crabs to take home to family or sell commercially. However, Dungeness crab season on the Washington coast happens to coincide with the stormy winter season that brings strong surge and wave action. When the storms arrive, they can dislodge crab pots, dragging them far from where they were set.  

This is not only disheartening for a crabber, but also has negative impacts on the marine environment and coastal communities. For example, lost crab pots continue catching crabs and other marine animals until the pot is either removed from the ocean, buried by sediments or its biodegradable escapement rings disintegrate. The pots are also often attached to lines and buoys that can entangle marine mammals. Other fishers’ gear and boats may also become tangled in rogue lines and buoys, disrupting fishing days and damaging gear.

Crab pot retrieval in Grays Harbor County. Photo © Kyle Antonelis/Natural Resources Consultants

Home to Washington’s largest tribal crab fishery, the Quinault Indian Nation has been working with The Nature Conservancy since 2012 to send out crews to remove lost crab pots, lines and buoys from the ocean after the crabbing season. To date, the partnership has removed more than 1,000 pots, lines and buoys from 155 square miles of sea. The Quinault Indian Nation is also developing a program that will create incentives for fishers to retrieve lost pots and help reduce the long term accumulation of pots in the ocean.

To get the word out among coastal communities, the Quinault Indian Nation and The Nature Conservancy created a restaurant placemat with information about the project and a coloring sheet for kids. If you’re headed out to the coast this summer and fall, look out for them!

Your masterpiece can help us raise awareness about this important issue. Download the placemat in the link below and post a photo of your crab pot coloring page to our Facebook profile, and we’ll send you a small gift of appreciation!

A young, aspiring artist works on her derelict crab pot placemat. Photo © Deborah Kidd/TNC