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Innovative research aims to prevent derelict fishing trap impacts

By: Dianna Parker

Every day, commercial fishermen around the country deploy hundreds of fishing traps into ocean and coastal waters to land their catches. Far too often, the traps never make it back above the water’s surface, thanks to storms, tangled lines, or disturbance from passing vessels.

Now, researchers are testing innovative gear technologies and modifications to help fishermen hold on to their traps and prevent serious impacts from the derelict gear to the fishery, marine wildlife, their habitats, and the economy.

Studies show that derelict fishing gear is a widespread and persistent problem across fisheries in the United States. Lost traps are costly to fishermen, expensive to remove, and they continue catching valuable crabs and other commercial species – or “ghostfishing” – on the seafloor. Non-target species such as turtles also have the misfortune of wandering in the trap doors, baiting more animals. They eventually die without food or air.

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But what if we could find a good fix, such as modifying traps so they don’t get lost in the first place, or making them easier to recover? What if traps were designed to be ineffective fishers once they become derelict? Four gear innovation projects launched last year through Fishing for Energy with funding from the NOAA Marine Debris Program are trying to do just that.

The Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC), South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, College of William & Mary, Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), and Northwest Straits Marine Conservation Foundation all received funding through Fishing for Energy’s gear innovation grants to test different solutions to this problem. The projects range from testing different ways to rig lines, to determining which pot design has the best crab escape rates.

At SERC, researchers in the Chesapeake Bay area are evaluating existing crab pot bycatch reduction technologies, such as side-scan sonar, and getting feedback on that technology – including which ones should be tested in the field – from Maryland watermen.

In South Carolina, the DNR is comparing different trap float and line rigging configurations by intentionally running over them with boats to see which one holds up. The pots they retrieve over the course of the project will become artificial oyster reefs.

VIMS is employing commercial fishermen to test biodegradable trap escape panels. Lead researcher Kirk Havens wrote in 2012 that VIMS created an escape panel with a “naturally occurring polymer that biodegrades completely in the marine environment.” The polymer is made from bacteria, and it disintegrates if the trap is left in the water.

The researchers are also testing whether terrapin turtles will avoid certain traps based on what color the trap’s doors are painted.

In Washington, the Northwest Straits Foundation is testing five different Dungeness crab pot designs used in the Puget Sound to determine which one has the best escapement rate. Some traps use cotton rot cords that are designed to disintegrate over time and allow the crabs to crawl out, but it doesn’t always work. The group estimates that over 30,000 crabs are killed each year in derelict pots with designs that prevent escape.

Groups all over the country are working to address derelict fishing gear, as the harmful impacts become more and more apparent. These innovative research projects are aimed at preventing those impacts down the line.

Fishing for Energy is administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) and is a partnership with the NOAA Marine Debris Program, Covanta, and Schnitzer Steel Industries, Inc.


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Building Bins: Fishing Line Recycling in Ohio

By: Sarah Lowe

In the Great Lakes, fishing line is an entanglement hazard for wildlife.  This is especially true in areas such as the Maumee River in Ohio.  Each spring, thousands of fishermen brave the cooler temperatures to catch walleye (a popular recreational species of freshwater fish found in northern waters of the U.S.), which are migrating up from Lake Erie to spawn in the river.  Given the amount of line being used during this time, there is a large amount lost or discarded improperly.

In order to tackle this issue, the NOAA Marine Debris Program has provided support to Partners for Clean Streams (PCS), a local non-profit in Toledo, OH, to build and distribute mono-filament fishing line recycling bins. On February 18, I assisted PCS staff and volunteers in building 20 bins!  As part of the BoatUS Foundation Reel In and Recycle Program, these bins are created to allow fishermen an opportunity to recycle fishing line.  Once collected, the line is shipped to the Berkley Conservation Institute and repurposed into more line or other fishing products such as tackle boxes.  Look for a bin the next time you go fishing!

This project, like many in the region, are being highlighted to congressional staff as part of the Great Lakes Day this week in Washington, D.C. Great Lakes Day is an annual event hosted by the Great Lakes Commission and the Northeast-Midwest Institute to educate and convey a unified message to Congress on priorities for the region.

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Aboard the transoceanic invasive species mobile

NOAA Marine Debris Program:

It’s Invasive Species Awareness Week, and did you know that there’s the potential for invasive species to spread by hitching a ride on marine debris? A floating net, buoy, plastic container, or other piece of marine debris can harbor algae, mollusks, barnacles, crabs, or other species and transport them across the ocean to regions where they’re non-native. If the species is invasive, it can do serious damage to the ecosystem where the debris lands.

In some cases, natural disasters introduce items into the open ocean from coastal zones, such as small boats, floating docks and aquaculture gear (nets, cages, floats), that have been colonized by intertidal and shallow water organisms. After the 2011 tsunami in Japan, NOAA and its state partners focused on the potential for marine debris generated by the tsunami to bring non-native species to U.S shorelines.

Rebeka Ryvola, a Research Associate at the Ecologic Institute, described for us in this post how invasive species can be bad news for biodiversity. Take a look.

Marine organisms attach to chunks of trash like foamed plastic. Credit: Lindsey Hoshaw


Originally posted on NOAA's Marine Debris Blog:

By guest blogger Rebeka Ryvola, Ecologic Institute

When introduced into new environments, invasive species can be a major problem.  Invasives – species living in a certain area where they don’t belong – can harm the native species present or out-survive them and cause dramatic ecosystem changes. The changes are usually for the worse.

Humans are often unwittingly instrumental in helping these species infiltrate new territories, and we’re finding more and more evidence that marine debris is a culprit.

Invasive species stage their “invasions” in a number of ways. They can float through the air, travel by water currents, or cling to migrating animals. On land, species such as insects and plants can hitchhike by lurking in suitcases, in and on cars, on bicycles, and even on your clothing. Oceanic species – such as barnacles, mollusks, algae, and fish – can attach themselves to boats or stow away in ship ballast…

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2015 Art Contest Winners

Congratulations to our 2015 Keep the Sea Free of Debris art contest winners! This year, we received more than 600 entries from kindergarten to 8th-grade students with incredible visual messages on being the solution to ocean pollution. Winners of the 2015 art contest will be featured in our 2016 marine debris calendar to help raise awareness on the harmful impacts marine debris has on our oceans year-round.

Marine debris makes everyone “crabby” including 6th-grader Halie C., from South Carolina. Have a look at our 2015 Keep the Sea Free of Debris art contest winners!


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Santa Barbara Students Dive into Marine Debris

By: Asma Mahdi

Last month, 60 elementary school students gathered at Mission Creek Lagoon in Santa Barbara, California for what will ideally be their first step in becoming ocean stewards. The field trip kicked off Marine Debris, the Ocean, & Me, new partnership to prevent marine debris with the Santa Barbara Natural History Museum and the NOAA Marine Debris Program.

Marine Debris, the Ocean, & Me focuses on teaching kids about how debris moves through watersheds and into the marine environment, with particular attention to litter found around the outflow of Mission Creek Lagoon. The kids get hands-on lessons in studying the debris they find there and determining impacts. High school students enrolled in the museum’s Quasars to Sea Stars program at the museum learn about marine debris through classroom instruction and get hands on experience through participating in a beach cleanup. The students apply their knowledge to develop classroom presentations and become teachers for a day on visits to local middle school classrooms.

Here are some photos of the event:

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Removing Debris from New York’s Jamaica Bay

By: Leah Henry

The American Littoral Society (ALS), as part of a Community-based Marine Debris Removal grant from the NOAA Marine Debris Program, is removing debris from 22 acres of salt marsh, salt meadow, and mud flats with the help of 1,600 volunteers. These removal efforts aim to improve essential fish habitat and help prevent future marine debris accumulation.

In addition to removal efforts, ALS is developing more compelling ways to present the data they collect, creating a marine debris reduction outreach program for communities directly contributing to litter, and implementing a marine debris reduction certification program to incentivize debris reduction in local waterways.

Learn more about this effort on the MDP website.



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