With a new $300,000 grant from the California Coastal Conservancy, the UC Davis Wildlife Health Center will deploy divers along the coast from the Channel Islands to the Oregon border to clean up lost and abandoned commercial and recreational fishing gear, which can be dangerous to wildlife, boaters and divers.
The Wildlife Health Center's marine ecosystem health program, the SeaDoc Society, will gather up "derelict" fishing nets, lines, traps, pots and other commercial and recreational fishing gear lying on the sea floor, caught on rocky reefs or floating in the water.
Similar efforts in Washington and Hawaii have removed hundreds of tons of debris but this will be the first such project in California.
SeaDoc staff plan to measure the amount of derelict gear in California coastal waters and develop and test methods to remove it.
"Derelict gear lasts in the marine environment for years, and can entangle and drown fish and other animals and damage underwater habitat," said SeaDoc Society executive director Kirsten Gilardi. Seals, sea otters, sea lions, dolphins, other marine mammals, sea turtles and sea birds are among the animals that can be accidentally caught and trapped amidst long nets, hooks, lines and related hazards.
"This California Coastal Conservancy support lets us begin to characterize the problem and work on solutions."
Surveys began in September, said Gilardi. "We've started survey work in several areas." A contractor is using a sonar system, working first in Humboldt County and in Monterey County between Moss Landing and the Monterey harbor. As of September 28, he had identified sonar images of fishing nets in Monterey and crab pots off the Humboldt coast.
"Our next step this fall is to conduct more surveys and set up reporting systems for divers, boaters and fisherman. They will be able to use a toll-free telephone number to report sightings of old gear. People will also be able to enter information into a Web-based database we expect to make available within the next two months. We are also creating outreach materials to alert folks at marinas, dive shops and bait shops about this project and how the public can participate," Gilardi explained.
Clean-ups will begin later in the fall, Gilardi said, once project members determine the location and amount of abandoned gear in the areas surveyed. Then the pilot project will focus on locating and removing gear around Santa Catalina Island, in Morro Bay, in Monterey Bay and Humboldt County. By the end of the pilot project, Gilardi expects that teams of three (two divers and one boat pilot) will be able to remove some gear in the regions identified. Project directors may tap into the expertise of sea urchin harvesters, who have considerable experience in navigating under water.
The conservancy funding is provided through Proposition 40, a resources bond act approved by state voters in 2002. The Laurel Foundation (South Pasadena, Calif.) gave $30,000 in 2003 and 2004 to support the planning stages. Additional support will come from the Northwest Straits Commission (Mount Vernon, Washington.).
The SeaDoc Society is a program of the Wildlife Health Center at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. SeaDoc's mission is to ensure the health of marine wildlife and ecosystems through science and education.
The California Coastal Conservancy is a state agency that works to protect and improve the coast and San Francisco Bay. The conservancy has helped open more than 100 miles of coast and bay shores to the public and preserve more than 150,000 acres of wetlands, wildlife habitat, parks and farmland.