Thousands of crab pots are lost in Puget Sound each year, often trapping valuable Dungeness crab in watery graves.
The Northwest Straits Foundation released a plan last week that outlines steps to reduce lost crab pots over the next three years.
The prevention plan is the latest step in the foundation’s effort to reduce derelict fishing gear, which can net and kill fish, birds and marine mammals.
The goal is to reduce crab mortality and increase harvests.
The organization has collected 4,130 derelict crab pots from parts of Puget Sound and the greater Salish Sea, according to the plan.
Of those, 753 were removed from waters in Skagit County, Northwest Straits biologist Jason Morgan said.
A 2010 study estimated about 12,000 pots lost that year could have trapped 179,000 crab, which would have had a value of about $744,000.
Dungeness crabs are an important resource in the region.
The state Department of Fish & Wildlife sold $1.5 million in Puget Sound crab permits last year. Crab permits, also called endorsements, are a special add-on to saltwater fishing licenses, agency spokesman Craig Bartlett said.
On average, Fish & Wildlife issued about 225,000 crab permits per year over the past five years, according to agency data. About 16,000 of those were purchased in Skagit County each year.
The Northwest Straits Foundation wrote the lost crab pot prevention plan with input from recreational and tribal fishermen.
The goal is to reduce vessel interactions and user errors that result in crab pots getting swept away.
The foundation’s Catch More Crab campaign, which was launched July 1 to coincide with the start of crabbing season, fulfills the plan’s aim of educating the public about preventing the loss of crab pots.
Other strategies in the plan include improving information provided during licensing, improving the state’s crabbing web page and including how to avoid crab pots in boater education.
The Northwest Straits Foundation plans to work with Fish & Wildlife, area tribes, area fishing groups and other agencies to complete the steps in the plan.