- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 2, 2006

YORKTOWN, Va. (AP) — Scientists have added a new term in the lexicon of Chesapeake Bay studies: “ghost pot.”

The term refers to lost or abandoned fishing gear and crab pots that have sunk to the bottom of the water and continue to trap and kill marine life.

The pots are typically lost during storms or when boat propellers accidentally slice through the marker buoys and lines keeping them in place.

Kirk Havens, a coastal ecologist at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, has released the initial results of a study that show an estimated 60,000 crabs are trapped in ghost pots each year in the lower York River alone.

Similar studies funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the South River in Maryland show even higher numbers, officials said at a press conference in Yorktown.

Results from the studies have led scientists and government officials to call for a program to identify and remove ghost pots and other gear that collectively pose risks to boating, conservation, fishing and water quality.

Scientists would use underwater sonar scanners to survey rivers, creeks and the Bay, Mr. Havens proposed.

The mapping information then would be given to local governments and fishermen, who would be paid to collect and dispose of the pots.

“We’d like to see it become a community-based effort, with people taking care of their local watersheds,” said Holly Bamford, who leads NOAA’s marine debris office in Silver Spring.

Programs in the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii have removed 500 tons of derelict fishing nets since 1996.

The nets entangle dolphins, seals, turtles, whales and sea birds.

After a recent one-hour ride on the York River, crews returned with nine decaying and seaweed-covered ghost pots containing several spider crabs, a half-dozen blue crabs, an oyster toadfish and a rusty beer can.

Similar endeavors have yielded a dozen species of fish trapped or dead in the pots, and a few muskrats and diamondback terrapins.

Mr. Havens conducted his research last year and this year with a $65,000 federal grant.

He is seeking an additional $35,000 to continue the project next year.

Until last year, Congress had halted funding for marine-debris projects. Federal funds have started flowing again, with $5 million last year and $4 million this year, Miss Bamford said.

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