Friday Harbor kids hatch a plan to save the seas

A story of students, innovation and robots finding lost crab pots

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article stated that the students found that missing crab pots cost Washington state fishermen roughly $70,000 annually. It actually costs them over $700,000 annually.

A small-town project is creating global attention.

Students at Friday Harbor High School are working to solve a local environmental problem with technology, and a worldwide electronics company has taken notice.

Students are brainstorming how to reduce the number of crab pots lost in local waters by designing ways to locate and retrieve the lost catchments using science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM.

Crab pots are wicker and metal traps used to bait, lure or catch crab by recreational or commercial fisherman. The durable traps can withstand weather and wear and often cause negative impacts long after catchments are discarded or lost.

To find the lost crab pots, students plan to use a remote-controlled underwater ROV to search the ocean floor, then retrieve the traps with bags. They hope to promote ways to prevent future losses as well.

In November, Samsung named the students as one of the 250 national finalists in a competition sponsored by the global corporation. The contest, called Samsung Solve for Tomorrow, encourages students to work out real-world, local issues using STEM. The school will receive a Samsung tablet thanks to the students’ work.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an estimated 12,000 crab pots are lost in the Salish Sea annually. Each year, missing crab pots cost Washington state fishermen roughly $700,000, as well as the lives of thousands of marine wildlife when they are trapped in the catchments. Crab pots also damage the local underwater environment.

“They are affecting the habitat because all that metal is just sitting down there,” said Evan Foley, a junior.

The award-winning plan was formed by Friday Harbor High School’s Eco Club, which is comprised of Foley, Sander Van Hamersfeld, Dan Garner, Raylee Miniken, Molly Tagney, Ayla Ridwan and Rachel Snow. Together, they represent one of the five high schools honored by Samsung in the state. At the start of 2019, they just missed the chance to move to the next round.

Friday Harbor High School teacher Sam Garson advises the group during their free time outside of class and says teaching STEM prepares youth for a future job market, not yet realized today.

“Students at Friday Harbor have an amazing natural curiosity,” he said. “Helping them to feed that curiosity with real-world applications of the material and skills they are learning inside school is something that is extremely important in helping them not only master 21st-century skills … but also help them be better members of their own community.”

According to, the STEM acronym was first coined by the U.S. National Science Foundation in the early 2000s as a way to promote the disciplines needed, in part, to address societal problems, similar to the students’ work to find lost crab pots. STEM careers are also among the highest-paying jobs in the country.

“A good understanding and experience in STEM skills will allow our students to be competitive candidates and have the ability to adapt to a world constantly being shaped by technology,” said Garson.