From Morro Bay to Crescent City, commercial fishermen in California pull in millions of pounds of Dungeness crab annually. The industry valued at $32 million to $95 million per year.
However, there is an unseen cost to this valuable fishery – the prime Dungeness crab fishing grounds are littered with thousands of lost crab traps. Although no angler ever plans to abandon a $200 crab trap, California’s rugged northern coastline is subject to huge winter swells and high-energy storms that can roll and tumble pots along the seabed. The pots’ long buoy lines also can pose an entanglement hazard to newly set crab and salmon gear, thus causing a cycle of gear loss – adding up to significant costs for fishermen each year. By removing the lost gear, the project improves relationships with other fisheries.
Researchers Kirsten Gilardi and Jennifer Renzullo of the UC Davis Wildlife Health Center are working to recover the lost crab gear in close partnership with the Humboldt Fishermen’s Marketing Association (HFMA) in Eureka and the California Lost Fishing Gear Recovery Project. With the support of a Collaborative Fisheries Research West (CFRW) grant, the researchers recruited for and developed a community-based, fishermen-led gear removal program.
“The CFRW grant allowed us to do all the outreach, attend association meetings, walk the docks and get to know the fisherman so we could garner trust and support,” Renzullo said. “In the end, the goal is to to identify funds within the fishery to make this an independent program.”
The researchers explored a variety of strategies to achieve a self-sustaining financial model for future cleanups. Currently, pots are traced to their owners and sold back for $50-75 or recycled. The proceeds are collected to fund the recovery program. More than 600 lost crab pots have been collected since the project’s beginning.
California Sea Grant supports this research through our partnership with the non-profit Collaborative Fisheries Research West, funded by the OPC.