The Fishing for Energy Partnership Provides Support for Reducing the Impacts of Marine Debris
Washington, DC - July 11, 2014 – Fishing for Energy, the public-private partnership aimed at reducing the adverse effects of derelict fishing gear (gear that is lost in the marine environment) and marine debris, announced nearly $300,000 in grant support from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Marine Debris Program. The grants will support projects that foster innovation in gear technology to reduce the loss of gear at sea and reduce the impacts of lost gear. Fishing for Energy is administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) and is a partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Marine Debris Program, Covanta and Schnitzer Steel Industries, Inc.
Every day commercial fishermen around the country deploy hundreds of traps and miles of nets into ocean and coastal waters to land their catches. Due primarily to circumstances beyond their control, like powerful weather events and disturbances from other vessels, some gear is lost to the sea. When this happens, fishermen lose both their gear and the associated profits. Moreover, the lost gear continues to capture fish, which degrades ocean habitats and wildlife. This phenomenon is called ‘ghost fishing’ and is an economic and environmental hardship to fishing industries and coastal communities. “By investing in innovative fishing gear technologies, we aim to prevent the negative impacts that ghost fishing and derelict gear can have on our natural resources and our economy,” said Nancy Wallace, director of the Marine Debris Program.
Gear Innovation grants from the Fishing for Energy Fund will engage over 800 recreational and commercial fishermen in partnership with state and private research institutions to reduce the causes and impacts of ghost fishing. “Ghost fishing from derelict crab pots is a significant source of crab mortality in Puget Sound, Washington,” notes Joan Drinkwin, Programs Director for the Northwest Straits Foundation. “Despite appropriate use of cotton escape cord that is designed to disintegrate to allow trapped crabs to escape over time, up to 30,000 crabs are killed each year in pots whose design prevents escape even when the pot's escape mechanism is activated.”
NOAA’s support of nearly $300,000 will support four projects under the Fishing for Energy Fund:
- The College of William and Mary, Virginia Institute of Marine Science will employ commercial fishermen to test biodegradable panels and will use color avoidance mechanisms to reduce bycatch mortality of both actively fished and derelict crab pots. Research to date, supported in part by Fishing for Energy, has identified that both actively fished and derelict crab pots capture and kill non-target crabs and other animals, including terrapins. This project will build on innovations applied to regular pots and transfer them to peeler pots which are known to have a higher mortality rate as ghost gear. The project team will also analyze terrapin avoidance of crab pots based on entrance funnel color to study whether there is a difference in catch rates between the regular and modified pots.
- The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources will seek to reduce crab trap marker float loss across the fishery by testing different ways to rig the gear. Despite efforts to reduce the number of lost traps, derelict crab trap numbers continue to increase annually in South Carolina. The Project Team will test three different technologies to reduce the float loss rates and therefore reduce loss rates of crab pots. Commercial crabbers will also be surveyed to better characterize annual crab trap loss rates in South Carolina.
- The Smithsonian Institution, Environmental Research Center will engage watermen and state agencies to reduce the impact of Maryland ghost crab pots in the Chesapeake Bay. The project team will assess existing and new technologies aimed at reducing the amount of lost fishing gear in the context of local fishing practices and environments of the Chesapeake Bay. Watermen will be engaged to help identify which technologies under development and in use in other fisheries should be tested in the field. The project will promote solutions that will have both strong conservation outcomes and positive economic benefits to those who employ the technology.
- The Northwest Straits Marine Conservation Foundation will determine the escapement rates of Dungeness crab from five different crab pot designs representing the breadth of designs used in Puget Sound. Results of the study will inform resource managers with the Washington Department for Fish and Wildlife, the Puget Sound treaty tribes and the leaders of the Puget Sound Anglers on the best performing designs and modifications that can be made to improve rate of crab escapement.