Jake Johnston, dive supervisor for the tribe's marine services division, handles an air hose after a tribal diver retrieved a lost crab pot.

Jake Johnston, dive supervisor for the tribe’s marine services division, handles an air hose after a tribal diver retrieved a lost crab pot.

Divers from the Nisqually Indian Tribe Marine Services Division are reducing fish mortalities and helping to restore the Salish Sea habitat by removing lost fishing gear from the bottom of Puget Sound.

“Recreation and commercial fishermen have been on the water for decades,” said David Troutt, natural resources director for the Nisqually Tribe. “There’s lots of lost fishing gear in Southern Puget Sound.”

Multi-beam side-scan sonar was used to identify derelict crab pots near the mouth of the Nisqually River and nearby islands last fall. These targets were marked using global position system (GPS) software. The Nisqually Marine Services dive team is now returning to those sites to retrieve the gear. The 70-foot Dive Support Vessel (DSV) Hickson provides a platform to support this work.

Since 2007, the tribe’s Marine Services Division has removed over 2,500 derelict nets and crab pots in Central and Northern Puget Sound. “We were part of a large effort removing lost gear from Elliott Bay into the Strait of Juan De Fuca,” said Robert Thomas, Niqually Tribal Member and Marine Services Commercial diver. “We gained a lot of experience during that project that we’re going to put to work down in South Sound.”

Keoni Kalama, who recently graduated from Divers Institute of Technology as a commercial diver who works for Marine Services, said, “The tribe has a substantial database of derelict fishing gear and pots developed by interviewing fishermen. They’ve been out on the water, they have a good idea of where people are losing gear.” This empirical data and the GPS targets located electronically represent hundreds of pieces of derelict gear that will be removed.

Lost gear can also have a lasting impact on fish and wildlife. “If a crab pot is lost during a storm, it will keep on fishing as long as it’s in one piece,” Troutt said. “Because juvenile salmon depend on juvenile crab for food, the health of the crab population in the Southern Salish Sea (South of Tacoma Narrows) has broad reaching implications.”

A tribal diver attached a float to the crab pot, allowing the crew to easily retrieve the pot.

A tribal diver attached a float to the crab pot, allowing the crew to easily retrieve the pot.

Both Nisqually River chinook and steelhead are listed under the federal Endangered Species Act. “Our local stocks certainly could use all the help they could get,” Troutt said. “But over a quarter of the salmon we find down here are from other places in Puget Sound. If there’s more food for them, salmon and steelhead runs throughout Puget Sound will be improved.”

If you know the location of derelict crab pots or fishing nets, please call the Nisqually Tribe’s Marine Services division at (360) 701-8817.

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For more information, contact: David Troutt, natural resources manager, Nisqually Indian Tribe, (360) 438-8687. Emmett O’Connell, information officer, NWIFC, (360) 528-4304