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Crab Trap Cleanup Planned For NC Coast

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Chris Hannant Photography
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The fishing industry is being asked to help collect abandoned fishing gear from Currituck Sound to south of Oregon Inlet. 

You’ve heard about catching a crab with just a string and a chicken leg.  This method works on a small scale.  But the process of catching crab commercially in eastern North Carolina involves placing traps in the water and waiting for the crabs to enter.  The 18 by 24 inch wire crab pots are baited and dropped overboard.  A rope is tied to each trap and connected to a buoy floating on the surface of the water.  It’s an efficient way of catching crab, but Coastal Advocate with the North Carolina Coastal Federation Ladd Bayliss says turtles and fish are often caught too.  She says abandon crab pots, underwater and out of sight, can also pose a major navigation hazard for boaters.

“In high winds, they will actually roll over themselves the buoy will kind of get sucked underneath the surface of the water.”

Crab traps are valued at $50, so the chance of being forgotten or intentionally abandoned isn’t likely.  Bayliss says most are lost in storms and hurricanes.

“In a recent storm that we had at the beginning of the summer, it was kind of a freak event of high winds that was relatively unexpected and we had fishermen whose pots were set, they eventually found them seven to eight miles to the south.  Which really demonstrates how far and fast these pots can move in a storm which is a big reason why pots are lost.”

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Credit Chris Hannant Photography
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Early this year, the Coastal Federation partnered with North Carolina Marine Patrol for a federally funded pilot program to remove abandoned fishing gear in the Pamlico and Albemarle Sound.  Local fishermen from Tyrell and Dare County were hired to help.  Bayliss says they collected over 350 pots, and a small section of gill net.

“We considered it to be very successful. The fishermen themselves removed just over 200 pots and in combination with Marine Patrol, who removed about 150 pots working in that same area.”

While one team removed abandoned crab pots under the water using side scan sonar, another team searched for buoys bobbing on the surface.  The three day project began after crabbing season closed, so crab pots technically weren’t allowed in the water.  Bayliss says the same techniques will be employed in the second cleanup effort on January 19th, 2015.

‘We’re looking for basically for fishermen in the areas Ocracoke northward. In future years, it may expand further, but as of right now, we’re looking for 12 fishermen in that area.”

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Credit Chris Hannant Photography
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The federation will pay fisherman $300 a day and their mates $100 a day.  The plan is to cover a wider area this year, as far north as Currituck Sound and as far south as Pamlico Sound.

“a lot of it depends on where the pots end up.  North Carolina Marine Patrol does aerial flights prior to the January clean up to kind of see where there are aggregations of pots, those that have buoys, and that kind of determines where we focus our effort.”

Not only will fishermen be removing crab traps from waterways, they’re also assisting in ongoing research as the North Carolina Coastal Federation tries to evaluate the level of bycatch caused by crab pots.

“Eventually, our data can show that the instance of bycatch in these pots is a very regionally specific thing.  You know, the bycatch that occurs in Virginia may be very different than what occurs in northeastern North Carolina.  Or the southern sounds of North Carolina.”

The crab pots collected during the project earlier this year and the upcoming collection will be used to create a habitat for oysters in northeastern North Carolina. 

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Credit NC Coastal Federation Staff
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“We cleaned them up and repurposed them to be unfishable so we closed up all the entry ways. And then we coated them in a mortar that makes them more appealing to oyster spat to settle.”

Bayliss says the oyster reef is on track to be built in spring 2015, as soon as the permit process is completed. 

Applications for interested fishermen are due next Friday, and are available at Full Circle Crab Co. in Columbia, Oneal's Sea Harvest in Wanchese, and Mike Keller's Rope Shop in Manteo.

Jared Brumbaugh is the Assistant General Manager for Public Radio East. An Eastern North Carolina native, Jared began his professional public radio career at Public Radio East while he was a student at Craven Community College earning his degree in Electronics Engineering Technology. During his 15+ years at Public Radio East, he has served as an award-winning journalist, producer, and on-air host. When not at the station, Jared enjoys hiking, traveling, and honing his culinary skills.
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