Undersea junk raised in Hood Canal

SHINE — Jefferson became the seventh seaside county to join a growing effort to clean up fish-killing crab pots and gillnets on bay bottoms of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound.

The Northwest Straits Commission’s derelict gear removal program, founded by Clallam County diver and Marine Resources Committee Chairman Joe Schmitt in late 2002 in Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, has since netted about 2,500 crab pots and more than 260 gillnets around the Sound and Strait.

“That covers about 70 acres. That’s a lot of gillnets in Puget Sound,” said Jeff June, Natural Resources Consultants Inc. chief scientist for field studies who has overseen Clallam County’s gear dives and others around the Sound.

To restore 70 acres of marine habitat would cost millions, said June, and that’s why cleanup is so much more economical.

“The bang for the buck of this program is just incredible,” he said.

And there are acres of sea bottoms yet to clear of deadly nets and pots that trap fish, shellfish, sea lions, marine birds and other marine life.

Government aid

The North Olympic Peninsula-originated program, which is now funded in part by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is used as a model for efforts being launched as far away as Hawaii, the Florida Keys and the Bering Sea, June said.

June was hired by the Northwest Straits Commission to oversee divers pulling nets and pots Monday and today about 1,000 yards off Hood Head between the Hood Canal Bridge and Port Ludlow.

A gray spring drizzle on Monday didn’t mean much to 20-year diving veteran Jack Iotte, who demonstrated how line buoys are used to float a heavy, encrusted nylon net to the surface in a matter of minutes.

With ease, Iotte lifted the 80-pound net from 50 feet below the surface.

June and the diving crew were joined by Anne Murphy, new Northwest Straits Commission chairwoman and Jefferson County Marine Resources Committee chair.

Murphy has a special ties to Jefferson County’s marine life as executive director of the Port Townsend Marine Science Center.

“Having this project in Jefferson County might kick up some awareness,” said Murphy, who helped June remove all live marine life from the net and return it to the sea.

“We should be able to get some enthusiasm up for future funding.

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