A state Senate bill that would require commercial fishermen to report lost gillnets is up for a public hearing this Monday, Feb. 14, in Olympia.
Currently, they’re merely “encouraged” to report lost or derelict gear, but that system isn’t working, says Bear Holmes.
“Only two nets have been reported lost since the program’s inception in 2003,” says the secretary of Puget Sound Anglers. “One of those, a gill net reported lost in Port Susan Bay in 2008, was removed by the Northwest Straits Initiative. It contained 162 seabirds, 14 salmon, 42 dogfish, 1,400 Dungeness crab and one harbor seal.”
It may have killed even more sea life, if you factor in decomposition rates over the 23 weeks between the time it was lost and then found, he says.
“In an ecologically rich area like Port Susan Bay, derelict gear can be a tremendous stress on the ecosystem and a source of mortality so you can see the need for prompt reporting and removal of these indiscriminate killers,” says Holmes.
SB 5661 would revise state code 77.12.780 and require commercial anglers to report their lost or abandoned gear within 48 hours to the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife. It was introduced by Senators Nelson, Pridemore, Swecker, White, Morton and Fain
Since 2002, the Northwest Straits Initiative has removed 3,860 nets in Puget Sound, and nearly 2,500 of those since July 2009 alone.
But even so, new lost gear is appearing all the time. Holmes reports that in just one area cleaned up in 2010, 12 fresh ones appeared.
“It is estimated that more than 20 nets or parts of nets are lost or abandoned each year in Puget Sound,” he says.
While this may seem to some like just another attack on commercial fishermen, for Holmes, it just makes sense to report lost nets.
“In my opinion, not reporting derelict gear is the equivalent of killing the goose that lays the golden egg,” he says. “I know of no other business where if you lose a piece of equipment, and that piece of equipment causes environmental damage until it is recovered, the government will spend taxpayer and other dollars to retrieve it for you and then return it to you for no charge and the only stipulation is you have to tell them where and when you lost it. The commercial fishers often unfairly paint all sportsmen, conservationists and environmentalists with a broad brush as being opposed to commercial fishing. That is not true.
“In addition, this issue is not about commercial fishing, season setting or allocation; the issue is about a piece of equipment that becomes an environmental hazard and an indiscrimanant killing machine until it is recovered.
“On top of that, Puget Sound Anglers has donated several thousand dollars to the Northwest Straits Marine Conservation Initiative to support ghost net removal efforts. That’s pretty rich — sportsmen paying to clean up the commercial’s mess,” he says.
The hearing before the Senate Natural Resources & Marine Waters will be held in Room 2 of the Cherberg Building at 1:30 p.m.
Holmes and Robbie Tobeck of The Outdoor Line radio show will be among those giving testimony.