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Misplaced pots create crabby times for Washington ferries


Officer Natalie Hale of Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife: “The area between Edmonds and Kingston is highly trafficked area; we have a lot of ferries, so we just want to make sure people are aware.”

This past weekend marked the much-anticipated start to the 2018 crabbing season.

On Saturday, June 30, crabbers were finally allowed to drop their crab pots into Puget Sound with hopes of catching their haul of the crustaceous delight.

“If you are to come out here during the opening of crab season you’ll see so many buoys,” said Tim Koivu, captain of the ferry Puyallup, one of the ferries on the Edmonds to Kingston route.

For members of the Washington State Department of Transit and Washington State Ferries, this can mean months of crabby employees and expensive headaches, if the pots and a ferry happen to meet.

During the 2017 crabbing season, three ferries were temporarily taken out of commission by improperly placed crab pots, delaying or cancelling hundreds of ferry trips.

“Once the boat picks a crab pot up, it basically winds it up in the propeller, pulls the crab pot up from the bottom and swings it against the side of the hull until the line breaks,” Koivu, a 45-year employee of Washington State Ferries, said.

The line can damage the propeller shaft’s seal and cause water to leak into the boat.

Ferries experience an increased risk of danger from crab pots because they have propellers on both ends and their forward propeller is constantly exposed

While none of last year’s accidents occurred on the route between Edmonds and Kingston, they have in the past, and if proper crabbing procedure is not followed in the area, it will happen again.

“The area between Edmonds and Kingston is highly trafficked area; we have a lot of ferries, so we just want to make sure people are aware,” Officer Natalie Hale of Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife said.

Each time a ferry and crab pot meet and damage is caused, the ferry must be dry docked and repaired. According to Koivu, dry docking alone costs upwards of $100,000.

“If you add up the cost to the people and the loss of service to the community, the damage is huge, all over one crab pot,” he said.

In Washington, it’s difficult to punish individuals whose crab pots end up in ferry lanes. According to the WDFW, that area of law is a gray area because there would have to be proof that the placement was intentional.

“We understand ferry lanes aren’t marked like highways, but it is very obvious that a ferry is going from Edmonds to Kingston, so just be mindful,” Hale said.

Ferries require a quarter mile to stop and do not have the maneuverability of smaller vessels, making a crab pot in the ferry lane difficult to avoid.

Weighting and positioning crab pots correctly, as well as having the proper crabbing equipment is the best way to ensure that pots and ferries don’t meet.

“It’s a matter of common courtesy that you weight your pots and be mindful of where you place them,” Hale said.

Additionally, WDFW advises crabbers to mark their buoys with their full name, address and their phone number so that they can be returned if lost.

Last year, the Washington State Fish and Wildlife department pulled more than 2,000 crab pots from the water that either were left out during closed days or were lost adrift.

Koivu, an experienced crabber himself, recommended setting your pot during high tide and allowing extra line from the water depth to most safely place your pots.

Crabbing season in Puget Sound runs through Labor Day, and is closed every Tuesday and Wednesday throughout the summer.

More information regarding recreational crabbing can be found on the WDFW’s website: https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/crab/.


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