ONSLOW COUNTY – Since 2014 the North Carolina Coastal Federation has been working to remove lost crab pots and fishing gear from coastal waterways. This year they have 31 teams of commercial watermen on the water, who are working up and down the coast to recover the lost items.

“They know where the pots get set, and they know the waters, so having their expertise is really important for the success of this project,” says Rachel Bisesi, a coastal education coordinator with the Coastal Federation.

She points out that most of the fishing gear was not intentionally abandoned – rather storms and sheer forgetfulness often lead to lost pots. Captain Matthew Littleton says losing pots is simply part of the business, but he says recovery efforts are just as important, which is why he's partnered with the federation for his second crab pot clean-up.

“I love it, there's not a lot of organizations that are putting the effort in that the coastal fed does,” Littleton says. “Anytime I get to work with them it's great, and anytime I get to do something that's gonna help me on the other side it's always great.”

Overtime, the pots can build up and create barriers to boats, as well as wildlife who get trapped inside and can't escape. Fishermen like Littleton who are on the water everyday have developed an eye to spot old pots that aren't being fished.

“You have a lot of deteriorating metal in the water, aside from that the biggest thing is they become hazards and structures for boats,” says Littleton. “I mean I can't tell you how many abandoned pots I've scooped up on the lower unit of my boat.”

The project went unfunded last year so the teams are prepared to find more deteriorating pots than ever before. In 2019, they recovered over 3,000 pots from the sounds, and they expect to top that number in this year's collection.

Bisesi says the recovery effort is important, but she says the real goal is reducing this problem in the future by creating awareness. The watermen are recording data on the pots collected, as well as the location so that they can hopefully prevent this issue from growing.