In the northwest Straits, an estimated 372,000 crabs die each year in "lost pots"

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Now that the summer Dungeness crab season has kicked into high gear, a big concern is derelict crab pots that are killing thousands of crabs.

According to research, an estimated 14,000 lost crab traps are sitting on the bottom of Puget Sound, and in the northwest Straits, an estimated 372,000 crabs die each year in these lost pots.

“They definitely kill crabs, and a study done by the Natural Resources Department in Port Susan and Dungeness Bay showed that if these pots don’t have the legal escape cord they keep killing crab for a long time,” said Don Velasquez, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist.

Anglers need to be aware that not all the crab pots purchased at the stores come equipped with the legal cord, better known as a rot cord, because regulations vary from state to state.

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“It is always best to check the crab gear you buy, and if it doesn’t come with 100 percent natural cotton cord, no bigger than thread size 120 or one-eighth of an inch in diameter, then they need to change it,” Velasquez said.

The state Fish and Wildlife regulation pamphlet has the text on what cord to use on page 133, and Velasquez says one smart test is that if the cord melts, it is not legal.

If used, crabs are able to escape when the cotton degrades; that would prevent the loss of 74 crabs per pot each year. Violations, if caught, could result in a $100 fine.

Simple steps to avoid losing pots: Make sure the pot is marked clearly with buoys to alert passing boaters; know how deep the water is when the pot is dropped, so that the correct line length is used, ensuring that the buoy will be able to be found; avoid ferry lanes and log boom lanes when placing pots, so the pots aren’t swept away; and use a weighted line rather than a floating line to prevent the lines from being cut by passing boats.

“The [Washington State University] Beach Watchers have been instrumental in getting the word out to crabbers, and we’d like 100 percent compliance with this rule and it is tough to get, but that is our goal,” Velasquez said.

“We are going to be out handing out free samples of the escape cords [today] at Dagmar’s in Everett,” said Chrys Bertolotto of the WSU Beach Watchers & Shore Stewards of Snohomish County.

For more information on the cords or how to get them, go to www.escapecord.org.

Lower Skagit king fishery looming

For the first time in 16 years, the Lower Skagit River will be open for kings beginning Thursday.

Fishing will be allowed to the mouth of Gilligan Creek from noon on Thursday through Sunday each week through Aug. 8.

This is one of the few areas in the state where anglers can have a chance at catching some big, beefy kings that can weigh in excess of 50 pounds.

“If you are thinking about filling up your freezer, you will be surely disappointed with this fishery. But if you are looking at the opportunity to catch a big chinook, then this is probably your best chance by far,” said Brett Barkdull, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist. “This is probably one of the only places in the state, and the only other would be the Hanford Reach area.”

Since 1999, many Puget Sound chinook have been listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act, and this fishery will be the first that targets wild chinook since it was enacted.

“If all the stars align we have a prediction just shy of 24,000 [with a spawning goal of 13,000 to 14,000], and it gives us some room to provide this opportunity,” Barkdull said.

Notes

• The Puget Sound Anglers Lake Washington Chapter meeting is 7 p.m. Thursday at the Community Center at Mercer View, 8236 S.E. 24th St. on Mercer Island. There will be a seminar on saltwater fishing off Vancouver Island. Details: 425-823-0704.

• The National Park Service has announced three fee-free weekends this summer.

At Mount Rainier and other national parks, all park entrance fees, including commercial tour entrance fees, will be waived July 18-19 and Aug. 15-16.

These fee-free weekends are in addition to the usual fee-free days: National Public Lands Day, which is Sept. 26 this year, and Veterans Day, Nov. 11.

The waiver does not include other fees, such as those charged for camping, reservations, climbing or use of concessions. Details: www.nps.gov.

• The Washington Fly Fishing Club meeting is 5:30 p.m. on the third Tuesday of every month at the Seattle Tennis Club. Please RSVP to attend meetings. Details: www.WFFC.com.

• The Mount St. Helens Institute offers a free Sunday Hiking Program series of 14 hikes in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest now through Oct. 25. The hikes range from easy to difficult, and are 4 to 10 miles round-trip. Space is limited and reservations are required. While the hikes are free, a $5 donation is suggested. Details: www.mshinstitute.org.

Mark Yuasa: 206-464-8780 or myuasa@seattletimes.com