Grays Harbor Derelict Gear Removal Project

2013 Annual Report

Project Sponsor/Organization:  The Nature Conservancy, Eric Delvin; 1917 First Avenue, Seattle, WA 98101; 360-280-2460; Fax: 360-956-9445;


Project Location: Grays Harbor County, WA      

  1. Lower Chehalis –WRIA 22
  2. Lower mainstem of Chehalis River and Grays Harbor Estuary

Background:  Derelict fishing gear is defined as recreational or commercial fishing nets, lines, pots, and traps lost or abandoned in the environment[1]. In Washington, derelict fishing gear kills thousands of marine animals every year. It destroys and degrades habitat and blocks access to habitats used for feeding and escaping predators[2]

      The detrimental effect and extent of derelict gear is well known and documented in Puget Sound. However, it is only beginning to be understood on the Washington Coast. In the summer of 2011 and 2012, with funding from a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Restoration grant, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in partnership with the Quinault Indian Nation (QIN), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and USFWS conducted the first derelict gear survey and removal project in the Chehalis and Quinault Rivers and Grays Harbor (Phase 1). On the Chehalis River, search and removal work occurred over five days in 2011 and two weeks in 2012 recovering more than 40 gillnets, including 20 nets that were “lethal” (suspended in the water column). In the Phase 1 portion of this project, we surveyed approximately half of the project area. We estimate that there are 38 derelict nets remaining in areas 1-3 (see attached Map A) and 50 to 100 nets remaining in areas 4-6 (see attached Map B).

      The damage these nets are causing in riverine and estuarine habitats is significant. To date, nets recovered as part of this project have been lost commercial fishing nets used in salmon and sturgeon fishing. Based on the animal carcasses recovered, we estimate that the recovered nets were killing approximately 143 sturgeon annually[3]. Although white sturgeon were the only species found entangled in the recovered derelict nets, green sturgeon have been documented

in these areas and could become entangled as well.  Lost nets are likely killing many non-target animals, including other fish, seabirds, and mammals[4].  In Puget Sound, for example, the estimated annual mortality of birds from derelict nets in rivers and estuaries is more than 4,300 across 17 species[5]. In 2012, a dead cormorant was found entangled in one of the nets we recovered as part of Phase 1 (Figure 2).

The Grays Harbor County Derelict Gear Removal Project directly addresses the degradation of habitat by systematically locating and removing lost nets and other derelict fishing gear in the Chehalis River and Grays Harbor estuary. Derelict gear has accumulated in the environment for decades. Location and removal of lost nets is critical due to the length of time they can continue to cause harm. Ensuring nets don’t accumulate in the future is also critical. TNC is working with QIN fishery to develop best management practices, reporting standards, and incentives to ensure that nets lost will be immediately recovered in the future. 

Although this type of project is relatively new on the Washington Coast, it has been specifically identified as a priority in planning documents such as the Ocean Ecosystem Initiative from Intergovernmental Planning Council (2007).  Better understanding of threats and restoration of estuaries on the Washington Coast has also been identified in current draft plans of the Washington Coast Sustainable Salmon Partnership (WCSSP 2011) and the Grays Harbor Marine Resources Committee (Final plan 2012). The restoration, enhancement, and protection of Grays Harbor estuary is a primary goal of The Chehalis Basin Salmon Habitat Restoration and Preservation Strategy for WRIAs 22 and 23. This project also implements two of the recommendations in Washington’s Ocean Action Plan in respect to derelict gear[6].


Goals and Objectives:

The objectives of the project are to:

1)      Complete removal of 38 derelict nets, identified in Phase 1, in  areas 1-3 and conduct targeted surveys and removals in areas 4-6 in the Chehalis River and Grays Harbor Estuary (see Maps A and B);

2)      In partnership with QIN Fisheries, complete best management practices (BMP) and a lost net reporting program. We have begun developing these tools with the QIN staff. We will develop drafts in the winter of 2012 and final documents by the end of Phase 2.

3)      Extend proven Puget Sound Derelict Net Removal Project protocols to the Washington Coast.  Phase 1 helped us learn how to effectively apply this technique in the riverine and estuarine environment. We will continue to refine the techniques and protocols for the Washington Coast as part of Phase 2.

4)      Conduct targeted education and outreach to user groups in the Chehalis River and Grays Harbor (i.e. sports fishing groups). We have presented the project to several groups including the Marine Resources Committee, Chehalis Lead Entity, and Sports fishing groups in Phase 1. We will continue working with these groups and others in Phase 2.


The benefits of this project include:

1)      In 2013, removal of 38 nets within areas 1-3 and at least 20 nets in areas 4-6. This will result in removal of more than 1.5 acres of derelict nets across 30 square kilometers of stream and estuarine habitat in the Chehalis River. 

2)      Establishment of a net recovery program with Quinault Indian Nation Fishery, including a set of best management practices for lost fishing gear. This process began in Phase 1 and will be completed in Phase 2.

3)      A comprehensive map utilizing sidescan sonar mapping techniques from Puget Sound Derelict Net Removal Program of all nets or possible nets in the prioritized areas of the river and estuary.

4)      A habitat characteristics map of the project area, including a “hang-up” chart of locations where lost nets are likely to accumulate.

5)      One workshop annually (2013 and 2014) with local user groups to inform of project progress, effects of derelict nets, and identify ways to support the project. 

6)      Annual outreach (2013 and 2014) with poster at the Chehalis Watershed Festival in Aberdeen, WA.


 Project Description:


This project is a multi-year, multi-partner project with an objective of mapping and removing all derelict nets and fishing gear in the prioritized areas in the Chehalis River and Grays Harbor and the lower 5 miles of the Quinault River. We are currently in Phase 2 of the project. Phase 1 work began on July1, 2012 and will continue until July 31, 2013 and Phase 2 of the project will be from August 1, 2013 to July 31, 2014.  The project’s two primary components: 1) net mapping and removal of derelict gear; and 2) creation of a lost net reporting program, together with an outreach strategy, will ensure derelict nets and other gear are found, removed, and do not continue to accumulate. 


       Net Mapping and Removal –The initial pilot project funded by NOAA allowed us to test several methods of locating and removing nets in this estuarine and riverine environment. In Phase 1 of the project, we mapped and removed nets in prioritized areas 1-3 (Map A). We tested a mapping technique using sidescan sonar to locate nets (Figure 3). Once nets were mapped, a diver, using surface supplied air and a two-way communication system, was deployed for gear removal (Figures 4 and 5). Divers reported the length and width of nets, the type of habitat affected, and the species and number of entangled animals. The nets were then cut into sections and floated to the surface with light weight airlift bags. The gear recovery boat (a 10 m Tribal bowpicker) picked up the end of the net, secured it to the gillnet drum, and reeled the net onto the drum.  If the net was entangled on the bottom during the recovery process, the diver was redeployed to free the entanglement. We surveyed all of areas 1-3 in Phase 1 and removed approximately 40 nets. There are 38 target nets remaining in areas 1-3; Phase 2 of the project will begin by removing these previously identified nets.  Once the net removal is complete in areas 1-3, we will survey portions of areas 4, 5, and 6.  Because the areas are too large to completely survey with funding available, we will use Tribal knowledge and our experience from Phase 1 to identify areas most likely to have accumulated nets and begin our survey work there. We expect to recover at least 60 nets and some derelict crab pots in Phase 2 of the project across all prioritized areas.


       Quinault Indian Nation Lost Net Reporting Program – Once nets and other gear from legacy fishing are removed, it is critical to ensure nets from the current tribal fishery do not present a hazard for fish and wildlife if lost. TNC will continue to work with the QIN and the Northwest Straits Foundation (NWSF) to develop a net reporting system that will enable the quick retrieval of lost nets within the same year. NWSF has been working for several years with tribal fisheries in Puget Sound to develop a net reporting system. We will use their experience to implement an appropriate system with the QIN. A “hang-up” chart of the area will also be developed with Tribal fishers and sidescan sonar maps. This hang-up map will allow tribal fishers to avoid problematic fishing areas. Finally, a set of BMPs will be developed with the QIN and communicated to the tribal fishing committees so that fishers will know what to do if a net is lost. This work began in Phase 1, will continue in 2012, and will be complete it as part of Phase 2.


Partners: This project has received enthusiastic support from community partners in the region, many of which are bringing substantial matching funds and volunteer hours to the effort. These partners include The Quinault Indian Nation, Grays Harbor Marine Resources Committee, Grays Harbor Co. Commissioners, the Chehalis Basin Partnership, the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Washington Department of Natural Resources (WDNR).


Monitoring:  Monitoring is an important part of this project. It will allow us to estimate the overall ecological impact of the lost gear and the corresponding restoration of the habitat resulting from this proposal. A biologist on board the recovery vessel will assess the relative age and condition of the nets, identify and count live and dead animals, and collect specimens of unknown animals or animal parts (bird bones for example) for later identification.  Information collected during the recovery is maintained on standardized data forms with all information associated with the unique identification number assigned to the derelict gear target. The data will be entered into the derelict fishing gear database in collaboration with the Northwest Straits Initiative for later analyses and reporting.


Outreach:  Outreach is critical to the long term sustainability and success of our efforts.   Nets in the Chehalis River continue to be lost due to vandalism. It is critical that we implement a robust outreach plan to better educate the public on the effect of lost nets in the environment.   Outreach efforts will focus on informing the public about the project and how they can get involved. These efforts will include presentations to the QIN Tribal Council and community groups such as sports fishing groups, local schools, Chamber of Commerce and the Grays Harbor MRC. We will post information about the project on the Grays Harbor MRC website and the QIN website. We will also have a poster at community events such as the Annual Chehalis Basin Watershed Festival, which attracts several thousand visitors annually. Finally, we will work to highlight the project in the local and regional press such as “Drops of Water”, a regular publication of the Chehalis Basin Partnership (CBP), which is sent to all subscribers of The Olympian newspaper who live in the Chehalis Basin.

News article in The Daily World

[1] Good, Thomas, P., Jeffrey A. June, Michael A. Etnier, and Ginny Broadhurst. 2010.  Derelict fishing nets in Puget Sound and the Northwest Straits:  Patterns and threats to marine fauna.  Marine Pollution Bulletin 60 (2010) 39–50

[2] June, Jeff and Kyle Antonelis. 2009.  Marine Habitat Recovery of Five Derelict Gear Removal Sites in Puget Sound, Washington.  Report for Northwest Straights Initiative.

[3] This is a conservative estimated due to our small sample size.

[4] Good, T. (2010)

[5] Personal communication supported by data from Natural Resources Consultants, Inc.

[6] Recommendations 3-1 and 3-2 of Washington’s Ocean Action Plan, 2006.

Fish carcass.

Removing nets from estuary.Dive boat.

Nets in bottom of boat.