Derelict fishing gear removal project

Derelict fishing gear is long-lasting marine debris that poses many problems to people and to marine animals, including:

  • Entangling divers and swimmers;
  • Trapping and wounding or killing fish, shellfish, birds and marine mammals;
  • Degrading marine ecosystems and sensitive habitats;
  • Damaging propellers and rudders of recreational boats, commercial and military vessels;
  • Endangering boat crews and passengers with vessel capsizing.

Unfortunately, Puget Sound is littered with derelict fishing gear. It is estimated that hundreds of tons of derelict gear have collected over time in Puget Sound and the Northwest Straits region, especially the Strait of Juan de Fuca and northern Puget Sound from Everett to the Canadian border.

What's Being Done?

In 2002, the Northwest Straits Initiative, a program authorized by Congress to protect and restore marine resources in the Northwest Straits, began a comprehensive program to locate and remove harmful derelict fishing gear from Puget Sound. In cooperation with the Department of Fish and Wildlife and other federal and state agencies, it developed removal guidelines, created a database of known derelict gear, established a phone and web-based reporting system and began removing derelict fishing gear, primarily gillnets and crab pots. Since 2002, the Initiative had removed over 5,900 pieces of derelict gear. Trained commercial divers and vessels locate derelict gear with side-scan sonar and camera surveys and then physically remove and dispose of the gear from the waters of Puget Sound and the Northwest Straits.

A map of cleaned areas, summary of activities and a species list with links to web sites with photos and descriptions of the species encountered in this project can be found on the Northwest Straits website at

What You Can Do

Report derelict fishing gear

Use the no-fault reporting system to report any derelict gear you encounter:

  • Report online
  • Call 855-542-3935 (WDFW) or 360-733-1725 (Northwest Straits).

There are no penalties associated with reporting lost fishing gear.

When you encounter derelict fishing gear

Stay safely away from it! Do not attempt removal. Recreational divers are strongly cautioned to avoid the gear because of the inherent dangers -- divers have died from entanglement in the past.

Take notes

Record as much information as you can while you're on-site, including:

  • Location - GPS coordinates/chart location (latitude/longitude), water depth, distance from nearby landmarks and/or common names for the area;
  • Type of Gear - Nets (monofilament gillnet or twine-like purse seine, trawl or fish farm pens), Pots/Traps (round or square for crab or shrimp, singular or multiple), Ropes/Lines, Floats, Trawl Doors or others;
  • Details - Date and time of sighting, your activity during sighting (fishing, beach walk, swimming, diving, boating), type of seabed, size of the gear, number and type of invertebrates, fish, birds or marine mammals entangled or dead in the gear, perceived level of threat to humans or passing vessels;
  • Contact Name - Your name, phone number, address, and/or email address will be very helpful should more information be needed. However, anonymous reports will be accepted;
  • Report what you see - even if you're not sure the gear is lost or abandoned.

Prevent your own gear from becoming lost

Fish and boat only in approved areas; know what's below you when fishing to avoid snagging. Properly dispose of all broken lines/gear on shore. Over 12,000 crab pots are lost in Puget Sound each year. Use escape cord on crab pots. Always report lost gear within 48 hours to aid removal efforts.

The 'No-Fault' Approach

The focus of the Derelict Fishing Gear Removal Project is not on assessing blame. The goals are to remove lost and abandoned gear, to help restore Puget Sound and the Northwest Straits, to improve public safety, and to assist species recovery. The success of the project will rely on the collective efforts of citizens, government organizations and private businesses that all have an interest in healthy marine life.

Project Partners

Agencies and organizations providing assistance and/or funding to the Derelict Fishing Gear Program include: Northwest Straits Marine Conservation Initiative; Marine Resources Committees of Whatcom, Skagit, San Juan, Snohomish, Clallam, Jefferson, and Island counties; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; U.S. Navy; Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife; Washington Department of Natural Resources, Washington Department of Ecology; Puget Sound Partnership; Tulalip Tribes; Stillaguamish Tribe; King County; National Fish and Wildlife Foundation; commercial fishing and diving companies, local ports, and private foundations.

What is the Northwest Straits Commission?

The Northwest Straits Marine Conservation Initiative, authorized by Congress, is nationally recognized as an innovative approach to bring sound science and an ecosystem perspective together with citizen energy and entrepreneurship. The Northwest Straits Foundation is a non-profit organization established to support the scientific, restoration, and education projects and programs of the Northwest Straits Marine Conservation Initiative.