Fishermen hired to clean up their pots Tens of thousands of crab pots litter the ocean floor, forming lethal obstacle courses of plastic lines and weighed-down metal cylinders. Lost crab pots are responsible for killing a long row of air breathing ocean dwellers, such as whales, sea lions and turtles. In addition to their effect on marine wildlife, stray crab pots also inflict costly and potentially dangerous damage to passing vessels.

The basic type of crab pot is a squat cylinder consisting of steel mesh and rubber, and with heavy iron that helps it sink to the bottom. Fishermen lose track of their crab pots due to various reasons, including storms, tousling kelp banks, and passing motor vessels that snaps of the line between the pot and the buoy.

In the past five years, two dead whales have washed up on the Oregon Coast entangled in the fatal combination of metallic pots and durable synthetic lines, but a federal stimulus grant of $700,000 from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has now been assigned to pay Oregon fishermen for cleaning up their crab pots – or at least a fraction of them.

As the crab season ends in August, the federal money will be used to charter 10 boats and hire 48 people — including the 31 fishermen who make winning bids. The aim is to recover 4,000 pots over two seasons.

Each year, Oregon fishermen lose 10 percent of the 150,000 pots they put out, according to a statement from Cyreis Schmitt, marine policy project leader at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.