West coast fishermen are bounty hunting for lost crab gear using their cell phones. The goal is get the ropes, buoys and anchors out of the water so they don’t entangle whales. Nearly 50 whales were taken there last year in the region’s Dungeness crab fisheries.

California fishermen created the retrieval project last year along with the Nature Conservancy to use their cell phone’s GPS and simple software to pinpoint lost gear. Washington and Oregon quickly followed.

“They are using their cell phones to not only take a picture not only of evidence of what the buoy looked like when they found it, maybe it will have some sort of identifying marking on the buoy – the vessel, the id number or something like that, but also the lat/long of exactly where they found that buoy.”

Nat Nichols is area manager for groundfish and shellfish at Fish and Game in Kodiak. Under a special permit, the crab gear bounty hunters head out two weeks after the dungie fishery closes. They get paid $65 per pot pulled up. The gear then goes back to the original owners who pay $100 for its return.

Roughly 10 percent of the gear is typically lost in pot fisheries, Nichols says. Whereas saving whales from the gear was the prime motivator for retrievals on the west coast, in Alaska it’s ghost fishing —

 “What happens is the animals go in there and starve and that rebaits the pot so they will fish for years and they can kill a lot of animals because they’re doing it 24/7 and always rebaiting themselves.”

–and gear conflicts.

“When you put this large number of gear, in Kodiak for example we can have 6-8,000 dungie pots in the water and if you lose 10 percent of it, even 5 percent, that’s a lot. And it starts to build up over the years and it gets in everyone’s way and causes gear conflicts. It’s a burden on everyone who’s on the water if they constantly have to avoid all this gear out there that’s doing nothing.”



At Kodiak, gear recovery permits are issued to help with gear retrievals after a crab or pot cod fishery closes; a state enforcement vessel also does a roundup of all the gear it finds.

Nichols says a cell phone bounty program could work and it’s being talked about, but it would be on a much smaller scale.

“In Kodiak even though we have quite a bit of gear in the water, I’m not sure it’s enough to really incentive people to go find it in the same way as on the west coast.   Instead of retrieving hundreds of pots and having 20-30 people participating in the recovery,  you may just have a couple or three or so.”

Nichols says the main focus is simply preventing the loss of pot gear in the fishery

Fish Radio is also brought to you by Ocean Beauty Seafoods, an Alaska corporation proudly supporting Alaska’s coastal communities and the Alaskans who depend on fishing for their livelihoods and culture.  www.oceanbeauty.com    In Kodiak, I’m Laine Welch.