Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Pound nets came up as a result of the Volunteer Interpretive Writing Committee being asked to start adapting some of the fact sheets developed as part of NOAA’s FishWatch program for the conservation page of the Aquarium’s website. Before any writing could begin, we needed to give Andrew, our webmaster, a wish list of fact sheet components and whether the components would be text, a table, italics, links to other websites, photos, glossary, etc, so he could build a template for data entry. Because fishing gear is an essential aspect in determining whether a particular species is being sustainably harvested, gear would be an important component to include so we requested a table plus text for this section. But a table requires a list of names of gear and that meant accessing all the 37 species currently featured in FishWatch to determine which gear types should be included in the table. The number turned out to be 15 types including eight different nets, one of them pound nets.
Having grown up with the freshwater of Lake Ontario and the Detroit River for my recreational fishing, my experiences were using a rod and reel to fish from a small boat equipped with an outboard motor or, in the winter, fishing through the ice with what was called a tip-up. Pound nets were new to me. How did a pound net differ from a gill net, otter trawl, or a purse-seine, nets I knew something about? To learn more, a call was in order to the person at NOAA Fisheries Service Southwest Region Office I consider my personal consultant when it comes to information about fishing. He answered my questions and also put me in touch with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) where I learned about pound nets and sea turtles, and how the pound net fishery is now regulated on parts of the east coast to control bycatch.
Pound nets are used to seasonally capture species such as striped bass, bluefish, flounder, catfish, croaker, menhaden, perch, weakfish, river herring, Spanish mackerel, pompano, and in Lake Superior, smelt. So what is a pound net? A pound net, passive fishing gear, has three parts. The ‘leader’, (actually a fence), consists of a series of usually wooden stakes set perpendicular to the shore and hung with net. The leader directs fish and other marine life, such as turtles, swimming offshore into the ‘heart,’ which is named for its shape and which funnels the catch into a ‘pound.’ where they are trapped and from which they cannot escape. Some leaders are all mesh while others are stringers and mesh. A stringer leader consists of vertical lines spaced apart in a portion of the leader and mesh in the rest of the leader. The pound net then is lifted, and the catch scooped and sorted from the enclosure. Sea turtles such as loggerheads, air-breathing reptiles, can become entangled in stringers or trapped in the leaders (the fence) where they can be seriously injured or drown.
Loggerheads have three different ecosystem habitats during their life span; terrestrial, oceanic, and neritic zones. Between the ages of 7-12 years oceanic juveniles migrate to nearshore areas where they continue to mature. In the spring adults migrate to the areas to forage. Green, Chelonia mydas, and Kemp ridley, Lepidochelys kempii, sea turtles also migrate to neritic zones.
The high mortality of sea turtles, especially juveniles, caught in pound nets in Chesapeake Bay between the beginning of May and mid-July resulted in NOAA instituting regulations to protect these animals covered by the Endangered Species Act. The Departments of Natural Resources in the coastal states of North and South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, and Florida adopted similar regulations. Pound nets cannot be set in some areas during certain times of the year. If they are permitted, the stretched mess size cannot be more than 30.5 cm (12 in); stringers are prohibited; length of leaders and depths set are controlled; etc. The Maryland DNR also explained the term ‘stretched net’ to me. It is a measurement of the size of the net ‘hole” when the net is stretched corner to corner diagonally.
Know more now than you ever wanted to know about pound nets? Me, too! But that’s what can happen when you start a project involving research. One thing leads to another.
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