Commercial crab fishing – why so much trash in the sea?

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For the past decade I’ve picked up many thousands of crab trap buoys off the beaches of the Marin coast. Many times that of broken bits and pieces of the same buoys. Miles (and hundreds of pounds) of plastic rope, untangled from piles of bull kelp, colied and packed miles off the beaches. Hundreds of plastic bait containers and gallon bleach jugs and other bits and pieces of toxic trash lost or dumped by the commercial (and sport) crab fishing fleet that works the waters off the nutrient rich waters north of the Golden Gate.

While all crab fishermen lose gear each year, some more than others. Not all of them are ignorant of the problem all this plastic poses to the very sea they attempt to make a living from. I know one fellow in particular who does his very best to not lose any gear, as well as to educate his fellow fishermen on how to be a steward of the sea.

I’ve asked him if he could get the fishermen to walk the local beaches as I do and help pick up all the garbage their efforts curse the sea and coast with. “I’ve asked the fishermen’s association to do beach cleanups Richard, more than once. And you know what they say to me? No.”

Is this the attitude of a steward?

What if consumers said no to crab?

The Department of Fish & Wildlife appears to oversee more than one group that feels entitled to exploit public waters for profit, and often make a mess in the process. Then expect the public to clean up after them.

Will DFW ever work as hard protecting the environment from their lessees as they do in promoting extractive (destructive) industries?

I urge the fishermen of California (and Oregon) who work the magnificent waters off our shore to re-double their efforts in becoming authentic stewards of the sea as they harvest their bounty.

At the current rate of more than 8 million metric tons of plastic dumped into the ocean globally each year (and growing), by the year 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean (by mass) than fish. We can and MUST do a better job of protecting our planet.

Below are some images showing a tiny fraction of the crab gear I have packed off Marin beaches.

As always, click on the image to see a larger version.
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More crab gear removed from beaches in years gone by

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Click on image for bigger picture – Should the price of crab reflect the cost to the planet?

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Commercial fishermen are extremely conscious of their impact

Click on the words above “Commercial fishermen are extremely conscious of their impact” to see this entire post.

The other day while visiting Spud Point at Bodega Bay, I noticed the signs you see below affixed to the railing along the harbor. Their poor condition led me to believe they have been there a long, long time.

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Since 2008, I have personally packed off Point Reyes Beaches:

miles of plastic rope

thousands of crab buoys (one very well known bodega fisherman demanded that I give them back to him, no charge, as they belonged to him. Reminding him that he abandoned them on the beach (they were now mine) and that I hauled them out on my back, I declined his offer. This same fisherman also apologized for his meth-addict brother (his words) who nearly ripped my head off when I offered to sell him back his gear for a fraction of what it cost him to build.)

hundreds of crab bait jars

hundreds of empty bleach bottles – It was only this spring that I learned why I find so many bleach bottles on the beach in the winter. Crab fisherman use pure bleach to dunk their buoys while out at sea to kill the marine growth on them. I witnessed a fisherman at Spud Point hauling dozens of gallons to his boat in a wheel barrow. I asked him about it and he told me he usually uses swimming pool bleach, it is stronger.

A friend of mine lives perhaps a 1/4 mile from the harbor at Bodega and frequently is overcome with the strong smell of bleach.

perhaps 7-8 commercial crab pots (they weigh 70-100 lbs., I leave them above the high water mark now)

It appears the same person who wrote the book on sustainable oyster farming in West Marin (where stewards of the land have deep respect for the waters they ply), also wrote the book on how to be a commercial fisherman who is “extremely conscious”.

Meriam-Webster defines conscious thusly: awake and able to understand what is happening around you.

This past year, California adopted rules used by Washington and Oregon with the hope of avoiding the mad dash to race out and catch every single crab as quickly as possible so nobody else can catch it. The jury is still out on whether it has had the intended effect.

Something needs to be done to reduce the huge and devastating effect wrought on the sea by these greedy, often drug addled fishermen. No doubt fishing is a difficult and dangerous job. When the name of the game is get it all now, any means are used to stay awake for days on end. I’ve been told that sitting in the back of the boat, pulling pots, breathing diesel fumes for hours and hours on end is how it is. If you want to stay awake, you take whatever you need: coffee, speed, meth.

Not all fishermen are greedy, nor drug addicts – likely a small fraction. But, with the amount of garbage left in the sea (who knows how many hundreds, thousands of miles of nylon rope lay on the bottom offshore), and on our local beaches (see below), we need more and stronger enforcement of the laws. We also need fishing regulations designed to reduce the “mad dash to catch it all now.” Perhaps of greatest importance, these conscious commercial fishermen need to self-monitor their ranks. And I don’t mean pulling the other guys’ pots, stealing his crabs, cutting the rope and dumping 25, 50 or 100 pots to the bottom just because he put his pots too close to “your” spot. I do mean not dumping bleach and bleach bottles in the sea, when you change out light bulbs, don’t toss the burned out bulb into the sea. Don’t put your gear where it is likely to be cut by tugs. Don’t leave your abandoned gear all over local beaches (or national seashores), come pick up your mess, and tell your fellow fisherman to not make a mess! Salmon fishermen need to stop shooting seals and sea lions.

This winter, as you enjoy your cracked crab, remember the hard work put in by fishermen, as well as the huge impact on this one and only planet we all call home.

Perhaps crab should be $40/pound, along with mandatory drug testing for all fishermen!

After looking over the images below, you’ll surely agree that “Commercial fishermen have played a very active role in causing lasting environmental damage.”


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Human trash collected from Point Reyes beaches during six visits

Human trash collected from Point Reyes beaches during six visits


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Commercial crab trap tags. Recognize anyone you know? I do.

Commercial crab trap tags. Recognize anyone you know? I do.