Each year, dozens of fishing nets are lost in Puget Sound, entangling hundreds of fish, birds and mammals. The Northwest Straits Foundation has been working for years to find and retrieve lost nets, often finding animals ensnared in them.

This week the organization is celebrating the removal of 5,667 such nets, a feat it calls a “major milestone in the recovery of Puget Sound,” according to a news release. The foundation has removed 94 percent of about 6,000 nets reported as lost in Puget Sound.

Between the time the net removal program was launched in 2002 and the work was completed June 30, 2015, net removal restored 812 acres of marine habitat, Northwest Straits Foundation Director Joan Drinkwin said. More than 450,000 animals — some alive, some deceased — were found in the nets.

About 260 species of marine animals were found in the nets, including 65 mammals, 1,092 birds and 5,659 fish. Many died while trapped in the nets, including porpoises, seals, otters, diving birds, sharks, salmon, crab and octopuses.

In Skagit County’s marine waters, 5,511 dead animals were found in 278 derelict nets. The majority were invertebrates such as sea stars, sea urchins and crabs. But fish, birds and mammals were also found.

According to a news release from the office of Rep. Norma Smith, who helped secure funding for the program, lost nets in Puget Sound have killed tens of thousands of marine animals.

While all known nets have been removed from depths up to 105 feet, the Northwest Straits Foundation said its work on the issue is not over.

The organization is working with the fishing industry and fisheries managers to prevent nets from becoming derelict. The organization also hopes to eventually recover lost fishing gear from deeper water.

— Reporter Kimberly Cauvel: 360-416-2199, kcauvel@skagitpublishing.com, Twitter: @Kimberly_SVH, Facebook.com/bykimberlycauvel

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