HALF MOON BAY, California (AP) ― California anglers are part of a new effort using their cellphones’ GPS and new software pinpointing areas where lost or abandoned crabbing gear has been spotted. They retrieve the gear for a payment (at Half Moon Bay, it’s $65 per pot) before the fishing ropes can snag a whale.
Leaning out the window of his boat’s cabin, angler Jake Bunch uses his phone to snap a picture of the spot, capturing its location via the GPS setting. Then he hauls in the crab pot, the size and shape of a giant truck tire, and removes the owner’s tag inside that California mandates. He tosses the lone live crab inside the pot back into the water as it’s the offseason.
California anglers and port officials working with the Nature Conservancy environmental group developed the program, designed to be affordable and easy enough for ports to manage on their own.
West Coast anglers annually lose thousands of pots for Dungeness crabs.
Dungeness bring in tens of millions of dollars in revenue in a good year. But they also are the single-largest identifiable source of fishing gear entangling whales on the West Coast. Crab pots and the lines can get carried away by waves or by vessels that accidentally snag them.
On the East Coast, meanwhile, lobster traps and gillnets are among the culprits in whale entanglements.
The surge in whale entanglements has fueled tensions in California between commercial fishing operators eager to show they are trying to tackle the problems and some conservationists.
Some environmental groups say the state should put in place more mandatory protection measures, such as blocking anglers from especially important waters for whales.
On this morning, Bunch quickly reels in nine derelict crab pots in fewer than two hours.
Back at Half Moon Bay port, Lisa Damrosch, executive director of the local seafood marketing association, has taken in about 450 recovered crab pots so far this year.