OLYMPIA - A new collaboration between the state Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Army's 569th Engineer Dive Detachment will help improve wildlife habitat in Puget Sound waters by removing derelict fishing nets beginning Monday.
The partnership provides the Army divers training in deep-water diving operations while removing wildlife-threatening derelict fishing nets at no cost to the state. Diving operations will be conducted off a contracted vessel through July 28. The divers will remove deep-water derelict fishing nets as part the Department of Defense Innovative Readiness Training Program.
"This is a unique opportunity to partner with the Army to address the critical habitat for sea life in our northern waters, while service members also get the training they need to work in deep-water conditions," said Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz. "Working together, this project will ensure more derelict nets are removed as part of protecting and preserving our aquatic lands for fish and other marine wildlife."
There are currently 233 known deep water derelict nets that have been identified through side-scan sonar surveys, drop-camera surveys, and diver surveys within San Juan County during removal operations for shallow water derelict nets conducted in the last 10 years. The cost of removing the nets, as well as the technical skill needed at the depths the Army teams will work, has prevented retrieval of the fishing nets.
Derelict fishing nets are known to continue to entangle and kill marine animals and to damage important marine habitats. A total of 2,246 shallow water (to 105 feet in depth) derelict nets have been removed from Puget Sound waters since 2002. These nets were damaging 344 acres of habitat. In those nets, 553 dead birds, 21 dead mammals, and 1,110 alive and dead fish were observed entangled. Most of the nets were lost years ago, during a time when salmon gill net fishing was at its peak.
Currently, it is estimated that 15 to 30 gill nets are lost annually. Commercial fisherman are required to report lost nets. The state and tribes support a Reporting, Response and Retrieval program designed to ensure any newly lost nets do not re-accumulate.