Derelict Fishing Gear

 Abandoned or lost pots continue to fish indefinitely, killing as many as 40 crabs per pot annually. In Port Susan alone, 24000 crabs may be killed by derelict pots each year.

Northwest Straits Foundation just led the development of a “Puget Sound Lost Crab Pot Prevention Plan.”  This plan, developed under the guidance of multiple stakeholders, identifies key strategies and actions that can be taken over the next three years to stem the loss of crab pots and prevent the impacts of lost fishing gear.


You can download the plan

To report derelict gear go to the following website: or call 360-428-1084. You will not be prosecuted for reporting lost gear.

The Stillaguamish Tribe is part of the West Coast Governor's Agreement for Ocean Health. Wildlife biologist Jen Sevigny is on Marine Debris Action Team and is helping draft an action plan for the three state governments (California, Oregon, Washington). For more info, please see 

RIGHT: "The Phantom" Remote Operative Vehicle used to remove deep water marine debris, taken by Jeff June.



What Is Derelict Fishing Gear?

Derelict fishing gear are the nets, lines, crab pots, and shrimp traps or other equipment that is abandoned or lost from fishing vessels and left unattended in the marine environment. Since modern nets (1940s onward) and fishing line are made of a monofilament plastic, much of the derelict fishing gear doesn't decompose in the water for many years, from decades to hundreds of years. Intact nets from the 1970s have been found still killing animals.

What is the threat?

Abandonned or lost gear is a threat to wildlife, humans, and boating vessels. Derelict net and pots have been shown to kill hundreds and thousands of animals, including shellfish, birds, fish, and mammals. As each animal dies in a piece of gear, it essentially rebates itself, drawing new animals, which in turn die. Thus the cycle of death feeds on itself and is continuous. Divers have also fallen victim to derelict gear. Even those attempting to salvage gear have become tangled and killed. Only trained professionals should attempt to remove abandonned gear, especially nets. Boats are also regularly damaged by derelict gear, by getting tangled in propellers, rudders, etc. Boats have even overturned from becoming caught up in nets. Marine habitats, such as nearshore reefs, are severely damaged by lost gear. For example, when a net lands on a reef and rock area, it will trap sediment and essentially smother the ecosystem beneath it.

 Derelict nets have been found with piles of bones entangled in them.

How much derelict gear is in the Puget Sound?

Based on annual trawl surveys, the WA Dept of Fish & Wildlife estimates 117, 000 items, weighing 2.6 million pounds lay beneath the surface of waters in the Puget Sound and Hood Canal.

Why is there so much derelict gear?

Aside from that which is lost or forgotten, the nature of fishing means fishermen and fishing fleets routinely break or lose gear while working. The Puget Sound gillnet fleet reports 10-20% annual lost of gear. This is equal to about 300 full size gillnets lost each year, over the last 30 years.

What is being done and how can you help?

There are now official protocols in place to help remove derelit fishing gear from our waters. The first step is locating and reporting found gear, with if possible GPS coordindates. To report derelict gear go to the following website: or call 360-428-1084.


The Northwest Strait Foundation, with support by the NOAA Marine Debris Program, created action packed and informative  short videos (1 minute each!) to instruct crabbers on using best fishing practices to reduce crab pots loss. Through use of social media, the links to the videos are readily available.

To find out more, go to the NWSF website:
Here is the link to NWSF Facebook site:
Below are the videos on Youtube:


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