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Marine Life & Conservation

Crab Pot Project Gets a Thumbs Up

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As a busy-body pelican landed nearby to watch, Manteo crabber Troy Outland pulled his 32-foot Manning boat astride a barnacle-covered chunk of white buoy while mate Derek Thacker pulled it from Croatan Sound.

“That one’s been there for a while,” Outland said, eyeing the dripping remnant of a crab pot.

The line was slimy with algae and grass and attached to the rusted remains of the pot’s metal bottom frame. Bingo: A derelict pot. Thacker wound up the line and stashed it at the stern. Outland recorded identifying information, time and location and started his motor to look for more.

So began day one of the N.C. Coastal Federation’s two-year pilot project to collect lost or discarded fishing gear littering waterways in north eastern North Carolina.

Outland, a full-time crabber for 37 years, was one of nine watermen hired to scour the waters for two days last week, coming behind the annual cleanup done by the N.C. Marine Patrol.

“You don’t really make a lot of money, after fuel costs,” he said. “I’m doing it because I think it’s a good project.”

By the time the first phase wrapped up at week’s end, surprisingly little debris was found by the watermen. Still, the effort, the first of its kind in North Carolina, achieved what it was designed to do: Bring watermen, regulators, and conservationists together for the benefit of the resource they all share.

“Overall, we were astounded that we didn’t see more pots,” said Willy Phillips, owner of Full Circle Crab Co. in Columbia. “That was a real revelation to us.”

Phillips, who has been crabbing in North Carolina waters since the 1980s, said that the lack of big storms in recent years is one likely reason that more crab pots were not found after two days scouring parts of the Pamlico, Roanoke, Croatan, Albemarle and Currituck sounds, the Alligator River and Kitty Hawk Bay.

Also, with the increasing cost of crab pots, he said, crabbers have become more diligent about retrieving their gear. When he was crabbing in the 1980s, Phillips said, pots cost about $6.50 each. Now they each cost about $45.  And pots are not made to last as long as they once did, so they deteriorate quicker – as soon as two years.

“Back in the day, there was a lot more gear left out,” Phillips said. “It was just that there weren’t as many people out there to keep track of it.”

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Willy Phillips

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Ladd Bayliss

 

As long as there are pots put in the water, one way or another, some will end up disappearing, being abandoned, tossed adrift by hurricanes or even stolen.

Plucking lost or orphaned crab pots out of the water is a lot more challenging than it sounds. The remnants of buoys can be indistinguishable from a bird or a whitecap on the water. Gear is often buried or tangled. Phillips explained that in bad weather, the buoys start “corkscrewing” and are eventually pulled under the water. Then over time, he said, the buoys will slowly “unkink” themselves.

Other pots, perhaps taken away by a storm or cut by boat propellers, are often found with their lines twisted around bridge pilings.

“When I started here nine years ago, we picked up roughly 10,000 pots that were out in the sound between Jan. 15 and Jan. 24,” said Sgt. Odell Williams, who works the southern half of the northern district of the N.C. Marine Patrol – half of Hyde and Dare counties. “Every year it has gone down – the last several years significantly.”

This year, he said, the patrol probably picked up less than 300 pots.

By law, crab pots must be out of the water from Jan. 15 through Feb. 7, but the water can be opened after Jan. 19 if few pots are found.

Williams said he attributes the steady decrease in orphaned and derelict gear to better Marine Patrol enforcement and more cooperation from watermen. When officers find a pot, they look for the tag that identifies the owner. If they find it, they will usually call the crabber to come fetch his pots. Otherwise, a court order must be obtained to have them destroyed.

Less often, Williams said, a ticket is issued to the crabber, who would be facing over $200 in fines and court costs. “Storms come in; fishermen lose their pots,” he said. “We try to be respectful to the fishermen. Everybody does not deserve a ticket.”

Williams said that throughout the planning and implementation of the project, the relationship between marine law enforcement, the watermen and the federation has been “excellent.”

“We’ve really enjoyed working with them,” Williams said.  “We’ve gotten along great.”

The genesis for the project came from the successful marine debris program launched several years ago in the Chesapeake Bay. By 2012, tens of thousands of derelict crab and peeler pots in Virginia and Maryland waters had been collected.

Volunteers unearth a crab pot from the beach. Photo: Sara Mirabilio

Volunteers unearth a crab pot from the beach. Photo: Sara Mirabilio

Although the Chesapeake program was the inspiration for the federation project, it was expected that it would need to be tailored to the different conditions in northeastern N.C. waters, said Ladd Bayliss, the coastal advocate in the federation’s Manteo office.

“I think in certain areas, we’ve got more tide, we’ve got more wind, we’re generally shallower,” she said. “It’s not apples to apples.”

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John Bayliss is happy about his find.

Some boats were equipped with side-scan sonar, the first time the technology was put to work in North Carolina to find pots. Over the course of the project, Bayliss said, it became evident that the same protocol and retrieval methods employed in the Chesapeake were not appropriate in N.C. waters.

Out of the 30 or so crabbers who applied to work on the cleanup, Bayliss said, nine of them were hired to do the collection.  Boat captains were paid $300 a day and deck hands $100.

The second year of the pilot project, funded with a $35,000 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an $18,000 grant from North Carolina Sea Grant and $10,000 in matching funds, will be conducted in the same time period next year.

In the meantime, the lessons learned from this year will be used to make the collection process more effective and efficient in 2015.

“I feel like this time we were able to get a collaborative group of people together to get the mechanics worked out,” Phillips said. “We were on the same page.”

A marine debris program has been talked about in North Carolina for a long time, he said. But until last year, opposition and suspicion never allowed such a project to get beyond fits and starts.

“What I think is the star achievement of the grant is that the fishermen are actively collecting data,” Phillips said, referring mostly to by-catch found in crab cages.

Fishermen have been gun-shy about providing that data because of the perception that in the past they’ve been burned by increased regulations.

Phillips, a former member of the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission, said that N.C. watermen have always contended that by-catch is not significant down here compared with Virginia.  But without the data, there’s no way to prove it.

A less obvious gain from the project is the positive experience of working cooperatively in a conservation effort that benefits all involved and serves the better good, Phillips said. It also shows that fishermen don’t just take from the public resource, as critics charge, but are willing to give back, he said.

“It’s an image-changer in the public’s eye,” Phillips said. “I really hope it will continue and expand.”

Article courtesy of www.nccoast.org

For more information on Ghost Fishing, visit https://www.facebook.com/ghostfishing

Catherine Kozak has been a reporter and writer on the Outer Banks since 1995. She worked for 15 years for "The Virginian Pilot." Born and raised in the suburbs outside New York City, Catherine earned her journalism degree from the State University of New York at New Paltz. During her career, she has written about dozens of environmental issues, including oil and gas exploration, wildlife habitat protection, sea level rise, wind energy production, shoreline erosion and beach nourishment. She lives in Nags Head.

Marine Life & Conservation

Save the Manatee Club launches brand new webcams at Silver Springs State Park, Florida

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manatee

Save the Manatee® Club has launched a brand-new set of underwater and above-water webcams at Silver Springs State Park in Ocala, FL. These new cameras add to our existing cameras at Blue Spring State Park in Orange City, Florida, and Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, in Homosassa, Florida, which are viewed by millions of people worldwide. The cameras are a collaboration between Save the Manatee Club, Explore.org, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, who made the new live streaming collaboration possible via support of their interpretative program.

The above-water camera is a stationary pan/tilt/zoom camera that will show manatees and other wildlife from above water, while the new underwater camera provides the viewer with a brand new, exciting 180-degree viewing experience. Viewers can move the cameras around, trying to spot various fish and manatees.

The Silver River, which originates at Silver Springs, provides important habitat for manatees and many other species of wildlife. Over recent years, more manatees have been seen utilizing the Silver and Ocklawaha rivers. “The webcams provide a wonderful entertainment and educational tool to the general public, but they also help us with the manatee research,” says Patrick Rose, Executive Director of Save the Manatee Club. “We have learned so much through observing manatees on our existing webcams, and the new cameras at Silver Spring can add to the existing manatee photo-ID research conducted in this area, as well as highlighting Silver Springs and the Silver River as an important natural habitat for manatees.”

The webcams are streaming live during the daytime, with highlights playing at night, and can be viewed on Explore.org and on Save the Manatee Club’s website at ManaTV.org.

Save the Manatee Club, established in 1981 by the late renowned singer-songwriter, author, and entrepreneur Jimmy Buffett, along with former Florida Governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham, is dedicated to safeguarding manatees and preserving their aquatic habitat. For more information about manatees and the Club’s efforts, visit savethemanatee.org or call 1-800-432-JOIN (5646).

Photo: www.avalon.red

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Marine Life & Conservation

Stranded dolphin rescued from muddy inlet

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At around 11:40 on Friday 16 February, a lone common dolphin was reported to British Divers Marine Life Rescue circling in the shallows in an inlet at Place, near Portscatho, in Cornwall. A couple of volunteer Marine Mammal Medics were sent down initially to monitor the animal in hope it would be able to get away by itself, and further assess the situation.

After an hour and a half or so of observation, the risk of stranding increased significantly as the tide went out as the inlet is very shallow, muddy and almost completely dries out over low tide. Therefore, a larger response team was dispatched with more equipment in preparation for a stranding. Indeed, the animal did soon strand in the mud and fell onto its side, submerging the blowhole. Luckily the team were on hand to help get it upright again quickly, then bring it ashore for a health assessment and to begin providing first aid. No obvious injuries could be found and it measured 2.03m, later confirmed as female.

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The team were soon joined by two vets, who were able to confirm the animal to be in moderate nutritional condition and appeared otherwise okay following a more detailed health check, and so was suitable for the team to attempt to refloat. However, it was not possible to refloat it safely in the inlet due to the nature of the geography, substrate and tide there it seemed the most likely reason this dolphin had stranded was due to getting disoriented in this location, and would struggle to get out again. Luckily a local resident had his boat tender moored nearby and was happy to use it a transport craft to take the dolphin out to deeper water.

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With help, the boat was slid across the mud and launched near the mouth of the inlet. A surfboard was placed on one side with a soft mat on top for the dolphin to lie comfortably on during the journey. When ready, the dolphin was carried across in a tarpaulin, transferred to a mesh stretcher and loaded on board with a team of four Medics including a vet.

The boat then carefully made its way out to the mouth of the Percuil River, facing into Carrick Roads and close to open sea, which was the most ideal site for release where the chance of returning and re-dolphinstranding was lower. The dolphin was carefully hauled overboard in the stretcher and held alongside briefly, though as she started kicking strongly almost straight away it was hard to keep hold and so she was released quickly. The boat retreated and the team observed her circling in the middle of the channel until she was lost from sight. The team returned to the inlet before darkness fell.

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The area will be monitored over the weekend for re-sightings or re-strandings, but it is hoped that she will recover successfully and continue back out to sea. In the meantime BDMLR would like to thank the volunteer team, local residents and members of the public for all their efforts and support throughout this incident.

British Divers Marine Life Rescue is an international marine animal rescue organisation based in the UK and is a registered charity.  The aims of the organisation are to provide a rescue service for marine wildlife, to support existing rehabilitation centres and to develop new methods of rescue, treatment, transport and care.  Website www.bdmlr.org.uk.

Photos: Dan Jarvis

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