Dungeness crab boats in California have been idle in ports up and down the coast this winter. The season remains closed in most parts of the state after dangerous levels of the biotoxin domoic acid were detected in crabs. While the delay has resulted in financial losses to fishermen and no California-caught crab at the market, some Dungeness fishermen have been busy hauling in a different catch instead: lost crab gear.

A group of fishermen stretching from Crescent City south to San Francisco are collaborating with the Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine to retrieve lost crab gear from the ocean. They sell the recovered gear back to the original owners, under what they hope will be a financially sustainable model for future cleanups.

“Lost and abandoned fishing gear impacts the ocean on so many levels,” said Kirsten Gilardi, director of the California Lost Fishing Gear Recovery Project, a program of UC Davis’ SeaDoc Society. “It alters underwater habitat, entangles or traps marine wildlife, and obstructs fishermen’s work. As a long-standing program of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, lost fishing gear recovery is essentially a ‘treatment’ for the ocean that can by applied easily by the fishing community.”

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