The day after Thanksgiving, ODA was back out on the waters to help protect the marine animals and flora that give us so much enjoyment here in Southern California. As we headed out of the mouth of Newport Harbor the seas were flat and the fall weather made the air chilly and the water a little cooler. One thing nice about this time of year is that Scuba diving is still viable and there is not as much boat traffic, making the dives a little less noisy. The crew on this day was Scott Sheckman (1st mate) and Chris Aultman. This was Chris's first time out with us and he proved to be a very capable diver and shared ODA's dedication to restore and protect the natural ecosystems underwater.
Our first destination was Heisler Park. We were going to look for a trap we had lost on our last outing (lift bag deflating after it hit the surface). We anchored next the one of OC CoastKeepers kelp restoration sites. Chris and I dropped down to 41 feet and headed to where we thought the lost trap was. Visibility was 30 to 40 feet, with the water temp running about 61 degrees. We found a lot of broken up pieces of old traps and the line that inevitably entangles itself on the reef. We removed 2 trap weight bars, and approximately 20 pounds of trap remnants and about 50 feet of line. We also saw 8 to 10 lobster active lobster traps that were recently set, but we were glad to see no lobsters had been trapped...yet. Although we did not locate the abandoned trap that re-sank on the last dive, we're confident that we will find it on a future visit to the area.
For our second dive, we headed to Reef Point, off of Crystal Cove State Park. Chris and I noticed that the current was running strong as we swam toward the anchor line, so we decided to do our diving heading into the current and therefore keep us in front of the boat at all times. While we dropped down to 42 feet we could see that the visibility wasn't very good, more in the range of 20 to 30 feet. But still good enough for us to swim a good distance from each other and cover a wider area than if we swam together.
While we were surveying the area we heard an unusually loud boat above us. We removed some more trap remnants and trap lines and sent it up with two lift bags. Back at the surface, as we were bringing the traps onboard, one of the lift bags got undone from our hold line and dropped back down to the bottom. AHH! Since I was out of air, Chris went back down to see if he could locate it. He did not find the trap that slipped away from us due to the current, but he did spot another abandoned trap which we will recover on subsequent dives, along with the trap that got away with our expensive lift bag attached.
After Chris and I got back aboard the boat, Scott informed us that the Harbor Patrol had paid us a visit while we were underwater. That was the large boat we heard. We had seen several lobster fishing boats in the area and it turns out that one of them called the Harbor Patrol and reported that he had seen us pull 3 of his traps, and claimed that we were poaching his traps. But when the Harbor Patrol arrived to get confirmation from the fisherman, he changed his story. Now he said they weren't his traps but that he did see us pull 3 traps. At this point the officers came over to our boat and confronted Scott with the issue. Scott pointed out that we were removing abandoned fishing gear and the officers could plainly see by our "catch" that this was clearly not active fishing gear, rather the rusting remnants of traps left to rot a long time ago. The officers then returned to the fisherman and explained ODA's restoration activities.
I later called one of the officers, Deputy Sheriff William Nelson, and talked with him about the situation and ODA's objectives. We had a very pleasant chat and he thanked me for our efforts to clean up the ocean floor.
I want to make this clear to all concerned parties: ODA is out on the water doing a job no one else wants to do - removing lost commercial fishing gear abandoned by the industry. It's hard work, it costs a lot of money and it's definitely not recreational diving. I have talked with Ian Tanaguchi and Steve Maytoreno of the California Department of Fish and Game, and they are VERY supportive of our work. I have also been in contact with John Guth, President of the Lobster Fisherman's Association, informed him of our objectives and asked him to relay the information on to the members of his group. Apparently it did not make it to some of the members. If there are any fishermen reading this, PLEASE pass this information on to your colleagues. ODA is removing up the dangerous traps and lines you loose and forget about. Please don't accuse us of poaching when nothing could be further from the truth.
Founder & President
Ocean Defenders Alliance