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Dec 31 2006

Fall 2006 - Year End Report

ODA has had a tremendous season in 2006 with numerous dive expeditions and organizational developments. After spending the month of August land-locked due to mechanical issues, ODA finally got back in the water on September 4 to revisit the wreck of the Olympic (click link for full details of this ongoing mitigation).

In August, I had received a tip from Dale Flees about several abandoned traps he had seen at Woods Cove in Laguna Beach. The crew for our September 9 expedition was Jim Lieber as first mate, with Dana and Bryan Murray and myself as the dive team. This was the Murray's second time out with us, they had been out a year earlier, but we had to cancel the dive due to overpowering waves.

It was a gorgeous day with flat seas. The boat ran great at about 21 knots. Due to Dale's detailed description of the location of a couple of the traps, it took us no time at all to find the first trap. In fact it was right under our stern. We put a lift bag on it and sent it to the surface, then headed towards shore where there were supposed to be at least 2 more traps. We found one very close to a rocky part of the shoreline. As we filled the lift bag to raise it to the surface we noticed that there were 5 lobsters in it. It was a really old trap with lots of the wire mesh already rusted away. As the trap ascended two of the smaller lobsters escaped. We continued on our way and returned to the boat when we got low on air.

After we got all our gear aboard we noticed that both lift bags had been driven by the current closer to shore. We managed to get a line on the closest one and pulled it to the boat. After we got that one on board, we pulled anchor and took the boat to where the trap was floating, about 100 feet from shore. Within a couple of minutes, a lifeguard swam out to us and informed us that we were too close to the shoreline, the legal distance is 200 feet. We quickly escaped and anchored as close as we could.

By now the trap and lift bag were within 30 feet of the rocks. We decided to form a human tow team. I went down on scuba to push the trap and Bryan and Dana snorkeled with a new line attached to the trap so they could tow it. As I took note of the condition of the trap I noticed that there was still one lobster in it, I got him out of there and motioned to Dana and Bryan that they could start pulling. It took us about 10 minutes, but we did get it back to the boat.

After cleaning all the growth off of the traps we headed back to port. We had only gone about a mile when the boat engine began to stall. A quick look into the engine compartment revealed that the bilge had stopped working properly and the engine was partially under water. We franticly started bailing out with the hand pump. After we got all the water out we all crossed our fingers and hoped that the engine would start. Luckily, it did and we made it back to port with no further problems.

It was a very rewarding day, but now we had to deal with the bilge system and had to replace the starter, again....This is a very old boat and it was designed to be in freshwater. We are pushing the limits of it's capabilities, and our very limited budget.

Over the summer I received an unexpected email from Captain Paul Watson, founder and president of Sea Shepherd. He wanted to know if ODA could use a special boat (38 foot ex-Coast Guard rescue vessel) that had been donated to Sea Shepherd and docked near their headquarters in Friday Harbor, Washington State. I didn't hesitate to reply with a "YES" as ODA desperately needs a larger, functional workboat.

Late September, Bruce Beckman and I traveled to Friday Harbor to survey the boat, named "Avocet" and see if she was suitable for our needs. She hadn't been started in 3 or 4 months and took us the better part a day, but with the help of Captain Alex Cornellisan and Linda, we finally got her started as dusk began to set. Alex is a longtime crewmember with Sea Shepherd and is currently the captain of the Leviathan, which is heading from Europe to Antartica to confront the illegal Japanese whaling fleet. Linda is also a longtime Sea Shepherd crewmember and was the crewmember of the year in 2003. It was only with their help and enthusiasm that we had success getting the Avocet started. After letting her run for an hour, we shut the engines down and decided to take her out for a spin around the San Juan Islands the next day.

Needless to say I hardly slept a wink that night as I worried about everything that could go wrong, and how I was going to handle a boat with twin engines and almost twice as large as anything else I'd ever operated. Luckily the weather was on our side. The sun was out and the sea's were pretty flat. Alex did me a huge favor and backed her out of the slip. The boat is 12 feet wide and the space we had to get out of was about 18 feet. He handled the job perfectly and handed the controls over to me.

So for the next 6 hours we took the Avocet through some trials, checking out the max speed, hull speed, all the gauges, depth finder and radar. Everything worked! This is an amazing boat and the deck space will allow us to get 10 times more junk on her before having to head back to port. It also will sleep 4 and has a galley and a head.

Many thanks to Alex, Bruce and Linda for all the hard work and sweat that went into getting the Avocet, newly named the "Clearwater", back into running condition and showing me the ropes on the operation of the vessel. Click Here to read more about the "Clearwater" and our goal to bring her to Orange County.

ODA Reaches Out and Up

On October 8, Jared Rubin and I had a booth at Discover Marina Del Rey day. This was an event that was geared toward educating children about the local agencies that work in water related fields. We had a fun day talking with a lot of kids and adults. We sold some t-shirts and had a lot of people sign up for our website updates.

October 14, we held a successful fundraiser for Sea Shepherd and ODA at my house. Click Here for a full report and pictures from the day.

On October 20, Chris Aultman took me for a helicopter ride from Newport Beach to Dana Point to film and document all the lobster traps buoys that were visible from the air. We wanted to do an actual count of how many traps are in the water each day, and where the highest concentrations of them are set. After we took the video, Bruce Beckman downloaded the film onto his computer and counted all the trap buoys that were in the field of view, which was from the shoreline to about 300 feet out to sea. He then took a topo map of the area and overlayed the trap numbers in black (see the map for details). What was an eye opener was the 140 traps concentrated around Reef Point.

While anticipating the arrival of the Clearwater, I was thinking about how we were going to be able to locate abandoned traps around the Channel Islands. I recalled talking with a longtime Sea Shepherd crewmembers, Marc and Marnie Gaede, who had a plane and offered a flight to make inspections. Within 4 days of my email, Marc and I flew out to Santa Cruz and Anacapa Islands on November 5th.

It turned out to be a very windy day, not conducive to a smooth flight, but up we went. Marc handled the plane like a pro. Because of the winds the visibility was fantastic. As soon as we left the coast of Malibu behind us we could see all the way to Santa Barbara Island, 50 miles away!

We headed to Santa Cruz Island first and went completely around it. We were flying about 1,000 feet above the water and I could clearly make out the trap bouys. I made notes on a map regarding the concentrations of traps. Interestingly they were only on the south side of the islands, with none on the north side. The same with Anacapa.

So now we have a good idea where to start our searches come next spring. The next challenge is finding a slip for the Clearwater. Thanks Marc and Marnie for putting this flight together, and for donating the time and fuel!

Late Fall - Great Expeditions and More Attention from Fishermen

Armed with the results of our October 21 helicopter flight, Jared Rubin (first mate) and I headed directly for Reef Point to see if indeed what we saw on the surface had any relationship to the amount of debris to be found below. I dove solo and within the first 15 minutes of the dive, found 2 traps and some trap remnants. We got the traps onboard and about 40 lbs of debris, cleaned it of all life forms, and headed back to port.

As we were nearing the landing dock someone started yelling at us from the bait barge to come over there, he wanted to "talk" to us. Jared was at the helm and I told him to just keep going. When we got to the dock, we were met by two enforcement agents from the Department of Fish and Game (DF&G).

DF&G were out checking the licenses of anyone who was out hunting for lobsters, and even those that were not, which included ODA. They asked a couple of questions, checked our holds for lobsters and after we explained about the salvaged lobster traps, the authorities thanked us for ODA's life-saving work.

But just as DF&G reps were leaving, someone pulled up to the dock in a beat-up looking truck. It turned out to be the guy who was yelling something at us from the bait barge at sea. He was all worked up, complaining about divers poaching his traps and cutting the lines. He clearly had us in mind, but when the DF&G agents told him about our mission, he continued to rail at them about all the issues he has with divers allegedly poaching his take. As we left the dockside his arms were flailing and we could hear him sniveling about "those damned poachers".

Due to bad weather and personal obligations we were not able to go out until November 26, when Jim Leiber (first mate), Erik Burrows and I went to Reef point to see what we could find. It was a great day to dive, visibility was 25 to 35 feet, and the sea's were a calm 1-2 feet. This time we found 3 anchors (each with 20 feet of chain attached), 20 lbs of trap remnants and about 80 feet of trap lines. Our total haul was over 100 lbs of junk.

December 2 found Jared Rubin (first mate), Chris Bell, Erik Burrows and myself going back to Reef Point. The weather was starting to get cold, but the dive conditions were still good with 20-30 foot visibility. I decided not to dive due to being a cold wimp. So Chris and Erik went south of the breaking rocks at Reef Point. They found one trap, 2 weight bars, 30 lbs of trap remnants and over 80 feet of trap line.

They had sent 3 lift bags to the surface and while they were still underwater, Jared and I pulled anchor to go retrieve the lift bag that was closest to shore. When we eventually reached the floating trap, we could not get it aboard - it was too heavy, must have weighed over 100 lbs! We put a line on it and dragged it out to where Chris and Erik had surfaced. When we got them aboard we talked with them about why the trap was so heavy and they informed us that is was absolutely loaded with growth. So they jumped back in the water with their gear on and for the next 20 minutes proceeded to knock and pull all the growth off of it. When we finally got it on board it only weighed 30 lbs and was in remarkably good condition for an old abandoned trap.

As we headed back to Newport Harbor, just as we were reaching the breakwater, a couple of guys in a lobster boat cut across our bow and were yelling that the trap we had belonged to them. I was incredulous that a fisherman would claim a trap that had been derelict in the water for at least a year. So I kept moving. The fishermen followed us into the mouth of the harbor and started to yell at us to give the trap back. We told them to follow us to the Harbor Patrol and we would sort it out there. They declined and said they would get in touch with us later.

They next day I received a very nasty email from someone (they did not divulge their identity nor contact info), and called me a liar and a thief, among other things. They also threatened to let everyone know about what we were doing and were going to "shut you down".

On December 4, I received a phone message from the captain of the lobster boat. I quickly called him to talk about what had transpired. He said he had called the DF&G and the Harbor Patrol and told them what he had seen, and asked them if we had legal rights to pull lobster traps. He was told that no one has the legal right to do that other than DF&G officials and lobster fisherman with licenses. I then explained to him that I had had lengthy and ongoing discussions with both agencies about pulling abandoned commercial fishing gear, and it is legal and within anyone's rights to remove abandoned gear.

After a lengthy discussion with the lobster fisherman, I discovered that he thought the abandoned trap ODA removed was a new trap, and he didn't realize it had been underwater for some time. I then offered to give a presentation to his group about what ODA does and what is considered legal and illegal when it comes to abandoned traps. As we were hanging up, he thanked me conducting ODA's work: cleaning up the underwater environment so that other creatures have a chance to procreate. I have not heard back from him yet, but will continue the dialogue as soon as possible.

On December 9, Jared and I closed out the year by giving a presentation to about 40 high school kids who were part of the yearly "Human Broom Cleanup" in Huntington Beach. This annual event is put on by Stephanie Barger of the Earth Resource Foundation and the wonderful ERF staff. This was our fourth year in attendance and it was by far the best. The young adults at our presentation were very interested in the oceans, what ODA's mission, and how they can help clean up the environment in their everyday lives. They even helped us by enthusiastically shredding two lobster traps. It was a great way to end a very eventful year for ODA.

I am eagerly looking forward to the year 2007. With the elections behind us, we can look forward to the environment entering back into the political landscape. ODA has a new boat, newly named the Clearwater, which promises to expand our range and missions. For people who want to help the local marine environment proliferate, ODA is offering the wonderful opportunity to come aboard the Clearwater and get involved!

Kurt Lieber
Founder & President
Ocean Defenders Alliance

 
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