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Watermen catch lost crab pots

February 19, 2019

J.T. Outland is a commercial fisherman with hundreds of crab pots he puts in the water. He works the waters around Wanchese, in Dare County. With that many pots in the water. it’s understandable that some could get lost. “Mostly the wind and the weather, hurricanes and The Weather Channel being wrong,” he said, listing the reasons.

Outland and his boat, along with 38 other captains and boats, took to the water in January to find lost or abandoned crab pots. It’s an effort by the North Carolina Coastal Federation to clean up fishing debris. “Well, you gotta clean the waters up,” Outland said standing among 500 of the pots collected. “You got tourists around here all year long too. It’s safer for them not having gear in the water.”

Safety is a big part of the clean-up, but there are environmental concerns as well. Sara Hallas oversees the project.

“This type of gear can continue catching fish and crab, so we want to make sure it’s removed from the water,” she said.

It’s a one of a kind program on the coast. “To me, it’s important because its cleaning up our waterway in way no one else is doing,” Hallas said.

For three weeks near the beginning of the year, the state declares a “No Potting Season,” meaning fishermen must remove their crab pots from the water. Any pot left behind is assumed lost, abandoned or illegally placed. The program uses that time to removed the pots and collect data on what the watermen find.

The NC Coastal Federation uses money granted by the state legislature to hire boat captains who may otherwise be idle during the period. The statewide coastal effort collected more than 3,000 wayward pots this year.

Outland believes cleaning up the sound is just part of responsible commercial fishing.

“The sound takes care of us, we have to take care of it,” he said.

Outland hopes to catch crabs in these waters for a long time to come. “As long as I can walk, or as long as there’s a job, as long as I can make money, support my family. “

This is the first year the program will try to return some of the lost pots to the rightful owners.