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A warning from Washington State Ferries: Watch your crab pots

Crab pots can seriously damage ferries. (Getty Images)

It hasn’t happened in two years, but the Washington State Ferry System is back out with a warning: Do not put your crab pots in the ferry lanes.

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This became a huge issue a few years ago. Three ferries had to be taken out of service in 2017 when crab pots or their lines got caught in ferry drive shafts and did significant damage.

In 2018, the Salish was knocked out twice in 24 hours by crab pots that were where they shouldn’t have been.

“It can do hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of damage to taxpayer owned machines,” the ferry system’s Ian Sterling said. “It costs all of us.”

That’s also money the ferry system just doesn’t have right now, with ridership cratering in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.

“We just can’t afford to have a boat out, especially taken out by something so preventable,” Sterling said.

Ferry captains are great at finding small buoys in the water, but they can’t catch them all. A lot of times the line get caught in the propellers first, and the captains can hear them banging on the bottom of the boat. Sometimes they are not so lucky.

“It’s the ones you run over that you don’t know and that rope works its way up the drive shaft and into some of the seals,” he said. “Then you have to take the vessel out of the water or put divers in the water.”

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All crab gear, including buoys, is required to have your information on them so the Department of Fish and Wildlife can reach out to you if your pot is found where it shouldn’t be. Fish and Wildlife Officer Natalie Hale said it’s up to you to know where you can set your pots.

“Ferry lanes are plotted on most chart-plotters,” she said. “If you can’t see the giant ferry coming your way, … you can always look at your chart-plotter.”

She asks all fishermen to use situational awareness. It’s pretty easy to see where the ferries and ships normally travel.

Violators can face fines for this.

It’s estimated that 12,000 derelict or lost crab pots are found in Puget Sound each year.

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