Rounding Up Puget Sound's "Deadliest Catch"

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Puget Sound may have a lot of problems in terms of pollution, but a cure is well under way for one of them. In the last year, about 200 lost or abandoned fishing nets have been rounded up by teams of expert divers.

It's slow going, because it is no small task to locate the nets by sonar and safely untangle them from their longtime resting places. Joan Drinkwin, programs director for the Northwest Straits Foundation, the group working on net recovery, describes it as dangerous, messy work. The nets are heavy, filled with sediment and the remains of fish and animals that got caught in them.

"There's no mechanical winches used to pull the nets up, because we want to protect the marine habitat," Drinkwin explained. "The divers wrap the nets up and use float-bags to float the nets to the top. Then, the boat crew will pull those nets up."

The legislature provided more than $3 million to finish the cleanup effort within the next two years, which Drinkwin said will allow the net retrieval boats to work full-time instead of part-time. She added that they are on track to finish the job and may have fewer than 1,000 nets to go, according to estimates.

The nets themselves are in bad shape and cannot be cleaned up for reuse, but Drinkwin said they have found one opportunity for recycling.

"Our divers and the vessel crews figured out a way to remove the lead lines from the gillnets that we're finding. They make up a huge portion of the metric tons of derelict nets that we're removing. So, a significant portion of the waste is being recycled," she said.

In the last decade, they've removed more than 4,400 fishing nets from Puget Sound. And they're still trying to determine how best to retrieve the nets snagged in more than 105 feet of water.

The progress of net removal efforts is reported at www.derelictgear.org.

September 3, 2013/ Chris Thomas, Washington News Service

IMAGE above: Derelict Gear in Puget Sound marine water. Below: Divers Crayton Fenn and Eric Hazelton with their most recent "catch" off Point Roberts reef in Whatcom County – an abandoned fishing net full of sea creatures that got caught in it over the years. Photo credit: Paul Rudell. (Click on image forlarger version)

nets derelict