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Derelict fishing gear dangers - and what to do

The death of seal pup Sandy, who drowned entangled in fishing line, has raised many questions the past two days. People have been asking what to do about derelict fishing gear should they come upon it. First of all, derelict gear, especially line and nets, is extremely dangerous. Never get close enough to risk becoming entangled yourself. Northwest Straits Derelict Gear Removal Program has informed us that a diver became entangled and died during a fishing line recovery operation several years ago.

If by sad chance, you see a dead marine mammal entangled in gear, get a photo if possible. If the animal is tagged and you can do it safely, try to get a photo of the tag number. Do not put yourself in danger to do so. Do not attempt to remove the animal or the fishing gear. Email the photo of the animal to Kristin Wilkinson, NOAA’s NW Marine Mammal Stranding Expert, along with lat/long information. To report only derelict gear, please contact NW Straits - they are the experts at removal.

What should you do if you encounter a live entangled animal? First, if at all possible, call the NOAA stranding network @ 800-853-1964 (in the West Seattle area call 206-905-7325). Keep in mind that most of the networks do not have boats or divers readily available for that type of response except in matters of whales. We want to stress the inherent danger in trying to free an animal. If you insist on proceeding at your own risk in this highly dangerous task, NOAA’s Good Samaritan clause will protect you from Federal prosecution for the “take” of a marine mammal (Marine Mammal Protection Act). The Good Samaritan exemption is as follows (found on NOAA website):

It shall not be a violation of this chapter to take a marine mammal if:
   1)  such taking is imminently necessary to avoid serious injury, additional injury, or death to a marine mammal entangled in fishing gear or debris
   2)  reasonable care is taken to ensure the safe release of the marine mammal, taking into consideration the equipment, expertise and conditions at hand
   3)  reasonable care is exercised to prevent any further injury to the marine mammal and
   4)  such taking is reported within 48 hours

Please note: This MMPA exemption does not protect you from liability of monetary damages from the owner of the net or fishing gear.

We cannot say enough how tremendously dangerous fishing gear is to all living things - including you. The last thing we want is a human tragedy on top of this environmental one.
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