June 2015 Bar Bulletin
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June 2015 Bar Bulletin

Derelict Fishing Gear: A Floating Danger

By Jen Mannas


We have all seen it - marine debris polluting our waterways and beaches. But one of the most hazardous types of debris to wildlife and their habitat, humans, pets and the overall health of Puget Sound is derelict fishing gear.

Derelict fishing gear is any abandoned or lost equipment used to harvest marine fishes including nets, lines and traps. It is estimated that there are hundreds of tons of derelict gear in Puget Sound and the Northwest Straits region alone.1

When gear is lost or abandoned, it gets entangled on rock outcrops and ledges accumulating in an already delicate ecosystem. The gear is made of synthetic materials (plastics) that can take hundreds of years to break down in the ocean.

As the gear floats in the water, it is hard to see and indiscriminately kills beyond the target species it is designed for. Seabirds, marine mammals, fish and invertebrates easily get entangled as they swim and forage for food.

More than 240,000 animals have been found and documented to be entangled in gear, encompassing over 240 different species.2 Entanglement cuts off circulation, causing nerve damage, amputation and even death. The accumulation of these entangled animals in gear attracts predators, which then in turn also get entangled; it is a vicious cycle that never ends.3

Monofilament line, which breaks after getting snagged, is left behind by sport fishermen. This line generally has bait and hooks still attached, which are accidentally swallowed by wildlife and pets, impaling beaks, throats and internal organs.4

The impact of derelict gear on wildlife habitat is also extensive. Nets have been found draped across centuries-old sponge reefs, scraping them bare. Crab pots disrupt sediment and leave bare patches in eel grass that are meters across, cutting off access to habitat.

Derelict fishing gear poses a threat to humans as well. There are documented cases of divers, swimmers and children getting entangled. It also damages propellers and rudders of boats and military vessels, endangering boat crews and capsizing vessels.5

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