Puget Sound Innovation Stories

Derelict Fishing Gear Program

Protecting marine animals from entanglement in lost fishing gear

Commercial and recreational fishing is a way of life in Puget Sound where generations have enjoyed the bounty of the harvest and the thrill of the catch. Lost fishing gear such as gillnets and crab pots are an inevitable consequence of fishing. Over the years, thousands of lost gillnets and crab pots had accumulated in Puget Sound, until the Northwest Straits Initiative began removing lost fishing gear in 2002. Since then, the Initiative has removed, by hand, over 5,700 lost nets and over 4,500 lost crab pots. This removal effort has protected millions of animals from death by entanglement and has restored over 800 acres of marine habitat. Currently the program focuses on preventing harm from lost fishing nets by managing a rapid response program aimed at removing newly lost nets quickly. The program also focuses on preventing recreational crab fishermen from losing their pots through a targeted education program.

What works:

  • Removal of more than 5,700 derelict fishing nets protects from entanglement hundreds of thousands of animals representing more than 250 unique marine species in Puget Sound, including mammals, birds, and commercially important fish and shellfish.
  • Recovery of more than 860 acres of marine habitat provides access to critical habitat for listed rockfish and other species.
  • Removal of more than 5,400 derelict crab pots saves hundreds of thousands of dollars-worth of harvestable crab from death in lost pots.
  • Videos showing how to prevent loss of crab pots have reached over 300,000 viewers on social media.
  • Collaboration of industry, fishers, resource managers, and citizens produced a widely supported Puget Sound Lost Crab Pot Prevention Plan.
  • Data system with standardized reporting supports location and removal of lost fishing gear.
  • The SeaDoc Society recognized the value of this project with the award of a 2014 Salish Sea Science Prize.


  • Removing nets annually protects millions of marine animals from entanglement in perpetuity.
  • Program has inspired the creation of similar programs in California, Virginia and the Baltic Sea.
  • The Reporting, Response and Retrieval Program ensures lost nets can be reported and quickly removed before they harm marine species.
  • Jobs and economic benefits from the commercial and recreational fishing industries are protected.


  • Congressional District: 1, 2, 6, 7, 9, 10
  • Legislative District: 10, 21, 23, 24, 26, 27, 30, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 38, 40, 42
  • WRIA: 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19
  • County: Whatcom, San Juan, Skagit, Island, Snohomish, King, Pierce, Thurston, Mason, Kitsap, Jefferson, Clallam


  • Northwest Straits Initiative
  • County Marine Resources Committees
  • Puget Sound Treaty tribes
  • Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
  • Washington Department of Natural Resources
  • Natural Resources Consultants
  • EPA
  • US Department of Defense

Project Funding:

  • EPA National Estuary Program
  • NOAA
  • Salmon Recovery Funding Board
  • Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
  • Washington Department of Natural Resources
  • State appropriation
  • Private foundations
  • Private donations

More Info

Publish Date: July 4, 2019