Every day, commercial fishermen around the country deploy hundreds of fishing traps into the ocean and coastal waters to land their catches. Far too often, these traps are lost because of storms, tangled lines, or disturbance from passing vessels, and fishermen have few resources to retrieve them.
While the traps sit on the bottom, crabs, lobsters, fish, and even turtles enter the traps and have no way of getting out. They often die and become bait for other animals to enter the traps. This is called “ghost fishing” and it is impacting fisheries and habitat across the country.
The NOAA Marine Debris Program is funding gear modification research and trap removal projects, in order to help fix this problem. Here are a few recent and on-going efforts:
- In New York, Cornell University Cooperative Extension pairs lobstermen with trained technicians to remove derelict fishing gear from deep waters of the Long Island Sound.
- In Maryland, the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center develops potential ghost pot solutions through bycatch reduction technology evaluations and through organizing Chesapeake Bay-wide conversations with watermen, state agencies, and the public.
- North Carolina Coastal Federation works with local commercial fishermen to remove derelict blue crab pots and recycle them into oyster reefs.
- The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources is intentionally running boats over crab trap floats to see which designs hold up; this information can help reduce crab trap damage and loss from boat strikes.
- The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission converted 10 years of scientific research on lost lobster traps in South Florida into practical knowledge that the public and fishing community can use to reduce the impacts of derelict traps.
- In Washington, the Northwest Straits Marine Conservation Foundation is determining Dungeness crab escapement rates from different crab pot designs, determining the most effective ones, and using the research to promote best fishing practices to state and tribal crab fishery managers.
- Also in Washington, The Nature Conservancy is removing derelict crab pots from 155 square miles of habitat within and outside the Quinault Indian Nation Special Management Area.
- In Alaska, NOAA Fisheries Auke Bay Laboratories is testing biodegradable panels in the field to lessen the impact of a Dungeness crab traps once it becomes derelict.