Ghost net gives local divers a struggle

Posted: 07/15/2011 in all marine news

Matthew T. Hall –

Ten scuba divers and four deck hands gathered under gray skies on Mission Bay Tuesday morning and motored south to the Coronado Islands off the Mexican coast.

Theirs was no recreational dive.

They planned to remove an estimated 1,000 pounds of fishing net abandoned 100 feet below the surface at one of the area’s most popular diving destinations. Eight hours later, they returned with 300 pounds and plans to return next week to gather the rest, which remains stuck in sand and snarled on a reef.

“We didn’t get as much as we wanted, but that’s the way these things go,” said Kurt Lieber, a former >San Diegan who organized the net removal. “You’ve got to take what the ocean will give.”

Lieber, 57, is president and founder of the Huntington Beach-based nonprofit Ocean Defenders Alliance. In the last five years, Lieber said, it has helped remove roughly 12,000 pounds of abandoned nets from Southern California waters.

Such tangled gear is known as ghost nets because they can haul in fish, sea lions and bottom dwellers long after being lost or left behind by fishing boats.

“They are perpetual killing machines,” Lieber said.

Marine experts said San Diego’s situation with ghost fishing improved in the 1990s with a ban on gill nets and the growth of diving, but that it’s tough to eliminate because no laws penalize the fishing industry for losing nets at sea.

Before most of San Diego’s coffee was even brewed, divers strode purposely from a parking lot to the Humboldt, a diving boat donated for the occasion, making several trips to load the gear they would need for their dives.

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