Stillaguamish Tribe looks at impact of lost crab pots

ARLINGTON (June 12, 2008) – More than 3,000 abandoned crab pots litter the waters of North Puget Sound. Left on the sea floor, the pots continue to trap Dungeness crab and other species, which die and become bait that lures more crab into the pots.

In 2003 and 2005, the Stillaguamish Tribe removed 333 abandoned crab pots from Port Susan, containing 952 live crab and remains of countless dead crab. Without exact figures, fisheries managers are unable to factor in those mortalities when developing population estimates and harvest regulations.

To find out how many crab are killed by abandoned gear each year, the Stillaguamish Tribe has deployed 12 test pots, commercial and recreational, in both shallow and deep waters of Port Susan, a popular, high-density area for crabbing. The pots were baited before they were put in the water and will not be re-baited. Divers are inspecting the pots every two weeks, counting and tagging the catch, noting whether any crabs have escaped or died, been partially eaten or decomposed. Species other than Dungeness crab are recorded and released.

“We’re learning what species and how many creatures are being killed by these pots, which is mortality information that fisheries planners haven’t had,” said Jen Sevigny, wildlife biologist for the tribe.

The Tulalip Tribes also are contributing funding to the project.

“Not only do these abandoned pots diminish the Dungeness crab resource, but they also hurt the salmon that feed on young crab,” said Shawn Yanity, chairman of the Stillaguamish Tribe. “We don’t care whose pots these are, we want to find out how much damage they’re causing and remove them.”

Crab pots get lost in a number of different ways. Crabbers sometimes underestimate the water’s depth or simply are unable to locate a pot when its surface float becomes separated.

The tribe will share the results of the study with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

For more information, contact: Shawn Yanity, Stillaguamish chairman, 360-652-7362 x228 or [email protected]. Jennifer Sevigny, wildlife biologist, Stillaguamish Tribe, at 360-435-2755 or [email protected]. Kari Neumeyer, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, 360-424-8226 or [email protected].