The Salish, shown here during a haul-out for repairs, was one of three ferries damaged by crab pot lines last year. It costs about $100,000 just to get the vessel out and back into the water. (Washington State Ferries)

The Salish, shown here during a haul-out for repairs, was one of three ferries damaged by crab pot lines last year. It costs about $100,000 just to get the vessel out and back into the water. (Washington State Ferries)

800 canceled ferry sailings due to tangled crab pot lines

Improperly placed pots caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage to three boats in 2017.

EDMONDS — When crab pots get tangled in ferry propellers, it’s the taxpayer who gets pinched.

A poorly dropped pot can cause hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages.

In 2017, three vessels had to be repaired after crabbing lines were caught in the propellers, resulting in nearly 800 canceled rides.

The crabbing season starts June 30 in this part of the state and agencies are working together to prevent local crabbers from grounding ferries.

“It’s an inconvenience to thousands and thousands of passengers, and the taxpayers,” said Ian Sterling, a spokesman for the Washington State Department of Transportation.

It costs about $100,000 just to get the vessel out and back into the water, according to Tim Koivu, a ferry captain for nearly 30 years. He said the actual repairs are “above and beyond” that price.

“All over one crab pot,” he said. “It’s that simple.”

Sterling said last year was worse than most and crabbing newcomers are a likely culprit.

“The people who have been doing this for years don’t drop their crab pots in the ferry line,” he said.

Crabbing is prohibited every Tuesday and Wednesday during the season. This year, that includes July 4. Pots left in the water on those days will be confiscated.

Natalie Hale, a state Department of Fish and Wildlife officer, said the agency seized more than 2,000 crab pots last year.

Every year, about 12,000 pots and 180,000 crab are lost in the Puget Sound area, according to a Snohomish County news release.

“We ask that people list their full name and address on their (buoys),” she said. “Just in case your crab pot is lost or accidentally left out because of bad weather, people can report that to us and we’re able to contact the owner and get it back to them.”

Ferries, unlike most boats, have propellers in the front and back. When the vessel makes its routes, the front end is exposed to buoys and lines.

Koivu said it’s almost impossible to spot the floating markers at night, during windy weather and if they’re pulled just below the surface of the water.

“This boat requires a quarter-mile to stop,” he said.

When the boat hits the buoy, the line winds itself in the propeller until it snaps. The propeller is connected to a seal on the vessel that keeps out water. Tangled lines can damage that seal.

Workers in the engine room are the first to spot the damage via water breaking through or a rising oil temperature.

“We never know,” Koivu said. “We don’t feel it and we don’t hear it.”

To avoid impairing other boats, Hale said to use weighted line for crab pots, monitor water depth and keep away from highly trafficked areas.

“It’s not a secret where the ferry is going,” she said. “Be mindful of other vessel traffic. Stay away and keep your pots out of the way.”

Koivu said he’s a good crabber, and he advises newcomers to drop their pots during high tide, use an extra third of line and let go of the buoy once the pot hits bottom.

When it comes to penalizing people for dropping pots in ferry routes, there’s a gray area, Hale said.

One violation that is enforced deals with whether line is weighted. Hale said the flimsy yellow line commonly used in pots isn’t weighted. While it’s not illegal to use, weights must be attached.

In Washington, pots are required to have a rot cord, which is made of biodegradable cotton. The cord dissolves if the pot is left in water for too long, allowing crab to escape from lost or abandoned pots.

On Saturday, Sunday and July 7, volunteers from the Snohomish County Marine Resources Committee and Washington State University Extension Beach Watchers will be at local docks, handing out free rot cords and crab measuring tools.

Joseph Thompson: 425-339-3430; jthompson@herald Twitter: @JoeyJThomp.

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