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Fishermen retrieve nets to help whales

Clean-up act: Fishermen haul up an abandoned crab trap off Half Moon Bay in the U.S..

Clean-up act: Fishermen haul up an abandoned crab trap off Half Moon Bay in the U.S..   | Photo Credit: AP

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GPS used to track abandoned crab traps

Confirmed counts of humpbacks, blue and other endangered or threatened species of whale entangled by the ropes, buoys and anchors of fishing gear hit a record 50 on the U.S. East Coast last year, and tied the record on the West Coast at 48, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The accidental entanglements can gouge whales’ flesh and mouth, weaken the animals, drown them, or kill them painfully, over months.

Going out to sea

This year, Bunch is one of small number of commercial fishermen out of Half Moon Bay, south of San Francisco, and five other ports up and down California who headed to sea again after the West Coast’s Dungeness crab season ended this summer.

The California fishermen are part of a new effort using their cellphones’ GPS and new software pinpointing areas where lost or abandoned crabbing gear has been spotted. They retrieve the gear for a payment at Half Moon Bay before the fishing ropes can snag a whale. Leaning out the window of his boat’s cabin, Bunch uses his phone to snap a picture of the spot, capturing its location via the GPS setting.

Win-win situation

Then he hauls in the crab pot, the size and shape of a giant truck tire, and removes the owner’s tag inside that California mandates. He tosses the lone live crab inside the pot back into the water as it’s the off-season.

The crab gear goes back to Bunch’s port, which charges the original owners $100 for returning the lost gear — a bargain, compared to the $250 a new pot costs.

California fishermen and port officials working with the Nature Conservancy environmental group developed the program, designed to be affordable and easy enough for ports to manage on their own.

West Coast fishermen annually lose thousands of pots for Dungeness crabs, which are a staple of Thanksgiving dinners and community crab feeds across California.

On the East Coast, meanwhile, lobster traps and gillnets are among the culprits in whale entanglements.

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Printable version | Jan 22, 2020 4:45:54 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/fishermen-retrieve-nets-to-help-whales/article19699721.ece

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