NOAA's Marine Debris Blog

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New Jersey Event Highlights Derelict Crab Pot Removal Efforts

On Friday, February 26th, the NOAA Marine Debris Program and its partners held an event in Waretown, New Jersey, to highlight an exciting derelict crab pot removal effort in Barnegat Bay. The event highlighted a project, led by the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey and supported by a NOAA Marine Debris Program Community-based Marine Debris Removal grant, which is working to identify, retrieve, and inventory over 1,000 derelict crab pots from Barnegat Bay, N.J.

Covanta partnered with the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey to provide two bins for collecting the retrieved derelict gear, to then haul and dispose of at their waste-to-energy facility. Covanta is part of Fishing for Energy, a partnership between the NOAA Marine Debris Program, Covanta, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and Schnitzer Steel Industries. Through this unique partnership, bins to collect old, damaged, and derelict fishing gear have been placed at 44 ports in nine states and over 3 million pounds of gear have been collected and recycled.

The event offered an opportunity for media, congressional staff, and interested local residents to see first-hand how this project works to improve New Jersey waters. These types of events are important to raise public awareness of the marine debris issue and educate local communities about what can and is being done about it.


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What’s Up With Derelict Crab Pots?

Derelict crab pots have recently been popping up in the media, and you may be wondering, “what’s up with all these crab pots?” Well, derelict pots are numerous in heavily fished waters and can create all sorts of problems for both the habitat where they are found and the local economy. Recently, there have been many efforts that are taking advantage of closed crabbing seasons to remove some of these derelict pots and learn more about them.

Derelict crab pots are a big problem for many coastal areas. These traps that have been lost, abandoned, or discarded into the marine environment end up there in a variety of ways. Oftentimes, crab pots are lost after bad weather, being improperly set up, or from lines being inadvertently cut from passing vessels. Once a crab pot becomes derelict, it can start to wreak some havoc. Not only can derelict pots become navigational hazards or damage sensitive coastal habitats, but they can also result in a phenomenon called “ghost fishing.” Ghost fishing occurs when derelict fishing gear continues to capture marine life, a catch that ends up going to waste and often results in the mortality of whatever organism was captured. This often also translates to economic loss, a connection that was recently explored in a newly published study by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS).

A boat full of derelict crab pots. (Photo Credit: Center for Coastal Resources Management (CCRM)/VIMS)

Derelict crab pots can be damaging in many ways. (Photo Credit: Center for Coastal Resources Management (CCRM)/VIMS)

This VIMS study details how fishermen can suffer economic losses associated with derelict crab pots. As derelict pots remain in local waters, they continue to capture marine organisms, including harvestable crabs. These crabs go to waste and, having already been captured by a derelict pot, can no longer be caught by professional crabbers who rely on such catches for their livelihood. By removing derelict pots, these financial losses can be avoided. For more information on this study, check out this blog post.

Derelict crab pots are removed from coastal waters in New Jersey. (Photo Credit: Elizabeth Zimmermann, Stockton University)

Derelict crab pots are removed from coastal waters in New Jersey. (Photo Credit: Elizabeth Zimmermann, Stockton University)

To avoid these financial losses and other negative impacts associated with derelict crab pots, there are many efforts underway to remove them. Three new projects in New Jersey aim to both remove derelict pots and educate the public about how to avoid losing pots in the first place. Check out this blog post to learn more about these projects. In Louisiana, derelict crab pots are such a big issue in the New Orleans area that the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is hosting two “Derelict Crab Trap Rodeos.” These are day long events during which volunteers work to remove derelict crab traps from local waters. The first event is this coming Saturday, February 13th, so if you’re in the area, stop by and help remove some derelict pots! But don’t worry if you can’t make this one, you’ll get a second chance at the next event on February 20th. For more information on this project, check out our website.


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I Crab, You Crab, We Crab (While Properly Rigging Our Pots)!

Lots of news from the Mid-Atlantic region! First, a BIG winter storm is heading that way and we encourage all to plan accordingly and stay safe during the severe winter weather. If you need tips on how to prepare for such an event, click here. Second, once the snow has come and gone, three new projects can continue their work and collaboration to fight marine debris throughout New Jersey waters and shores. Here’s a quick look at these exciting efforts:

 

A "Rig It Right" kit and an example of how to use it to rig a crab pot.

“Rig It Right” kits, provided by the WeCrab project at their workshops for recreational crabbers. (Photo Credit: Jacques Cousteau National Estuarine Research Reserve; Steve Evert)

Teaming up with the NOAA Marine Debris Program, Rutgers University and partners are leading efforts to prevent derelict fishing gear and other debris from entering local coastal and marine environments. This “WeCrab” project addresses the issue of lost crab pots, which are often the result of recreational crabbers that don’t know how to properly rig their gear. To do this, the WeCrab project is hosting workshops to teach crabbers how to rig their pots right, teacher professional development trainings, and small-scale crab pot removals. Read more about this exciting project here.

 

Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey project leaders tag their first derelict crab pots removed in Barnegat Bay! (Photo credit: Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey)

Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey project leaders tag their first derelict crab pots removed in Barnegat Bay! (Photo credit: Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey)

The Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey is also making strides in the fight against marine debris and working with the WeCrab Project for some of its efforts. Focusing in Barnegat Bay, New Jersey, this project is not only working to remove derelict crab pots, but also to better understand how many pots are lost and what their impacts are. Prevention is the ultimate solution, so in addition to removing over a thousand derelict crab pots from Barnegat Bay, this project is also conducting education and outreach activities, in part in collaboration with the WeCrab project. Check out more about this project here.

 

Derelict crab pots are removed from coastal waters. (Photo Credit: Elizabeth Zimmermann, Stockton University)

Derelict crab pots are removed from coastal waters. (Photo Credit: Elizabeth Zimmermann, Stockton University)

See how well things work when we work together? Another New Jersey project is working to rid its shores of marine debris, in part in collaboration with the WeCrab project. Focusing on Southern New Jersey, Stockton University, with a NOAA Marine Debris Program Community-based Marine Debris Removal Grant, is not only removing crab pots from coastal bays, but is also educating and training crabbers how to prevent trap loss and use low-cost sonar to locate and recover lost pots. Check out more about this project here.

Such exciting things are happening in the Mid-Atlantic region this year! Stay tuned to the NOAA Marine Debris Program website and blog for updates on projects in this region and throughout the country.


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The Dilemma of Derelict Gear

A boat full of derelict crab pots. (Photo Credit: Center for Coastal Resources Management (CCRM)/VIMS)

Derelict crab pots can be damaging in many ways. (Photo Credit: Center for Coastal Resources Management (CCRM)/VIMS)

Derelict fishing gear can create a lot of problems: hazards to navigation, damage to sensitive habitats, and ghostfishing. Ghostfishing occurs when lost or discarded fishing gear that is no longer under a fisherman’s control continues to capture marine life. This is obviously bad news for local marine animals that can end up ensnared in derelict gear, but it can be harmful to local fisheries too. That’s what scientists at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) think and set out to prove.

VIMS researchers considered that apart from the obvious financial loss of losing gear, fisheries may suffer due to competition between active and derelict gear, specifically blue crab pots. Their research and analysis, funded in part by the NOAA Marine Debris Program, evaluates the hypothesis that derelict crab pots compete with active gear by attracting target species that might otherwise be attracted to actively-fished crab pots. This reduces commercial fishery harvests and revenues and is thus a lose-lose situation for both the crabs and crabbers.

A side-scan sonar image of an active crab pot (on the left, with attached buoy) and a derelict crab pot (on the right, missing an attached buoy) in the Chesapeake Bay. (Photo Credit: CCRM/VIMS)

A side-scan sonar image of an active crab pot (on the left, with attached buoy) and a derelict crab pot (on the right, missing an attached buoy) in the Chesapeake Bay. (Photo Credit: CCRM/VIMS)

To test this hypothesis, VIMS researchers created a model that allowed them to assess fishery harvests in Virginia with and without derelict gear present. Using this model, they compared fishery harvests with derelict crab pots removed via a large-scale removal project, and a hypothetical scenario where no pots were removed. The comparison also accounted for other factors that could potentially impact harvests, such as stock abundance and environmental conditions, so that the effect of derelict gear removal could be isolated.

The results of this comparison indicated that the Virginia Marine Debris Location and Removal Program, which removed 34,408 derelict crab pots over six years, increased crab harvests in Virginia by 27%, or by 30 million pounds valued at $21.3 million for fishermen! This was the direct result of reduced gear competition and thus the improved efficiency of active crab pots. Removal was found especially effective in highly-fished areas with higher rates of pot loss. Extending their findings globally, VIMS researchers speculate that removing about 10% of derelict pots and traps could increase crustacean harvests by over 600 million pounds per year. These findings exhibit just one of the many damaging effects of derelict fishing gear.

A figure demonstrating the Virginia crab harvest with derelict crab pots removed (blue line) and without the pots removed (red line). (Photo Credit: VIMS)

A figure demonstrating the Virginia crab harvest with derelict crab pots removed (blue line) and without the pots removed (red line). (Photo Credit: VIMS)

This study and its results were accepted for publication by the journal Nature Scientific Reports (for you non-science folks, that’s a big deal), with VIMS researchers A. M. Scheld, D. M. Bilkovic, and K. J. Havens as authors on the paper. For more on these and associated efforts, check out the NOAA Marine Debris Program website.


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The Remarkable Results of the Crab Pot Escapement Study

By: Nir Barnea, Pacific Northwest Regional Coordinator for the NOAA Marine Debris Program

Every year, about 12,000 crab pots are lost in the Puget Sound, mostly from recreational fishing. These lost pots can continue to capture marine life, a process called “ghostfishing.” Recreational crab pots may come in different models and designs, but all have an escape mechanism to allow trapped crabs to escape from the pot if it is lost. But— are all escape mechanisms equally effective? If not, can simple modifications make them more effective and decrease the ghostfishing problem?

An elegantly designed and collaborative study tested these questions. Thirty crab pots, representing ten commonly-designed recreational Dungeness crab pot models, were placed in water tanks at NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service facility in Mukilteo, near Seattle. Dungeness crabs were individually tagged (a total of 350 crabs were used!) and were placed in the pots. Food for the crabs was placed outside the pots, adding extra incentive for the crabs to escape. The escape mechanism was then activated (by cutting an escape cord which would disintegrate if left in the water for a period of time) and the number of crabs escaping from the pots was tracked daily for two weeks. The study was repeated three times.

The results were remarkable. In two models, nearly 100% of the crabs trapped in the pots escaped after the escape mechanism was activated. Another model allowed nearly 90% of the crabs to escape. But in the other three models, only 10% or less of the crabs escaped. Even two weeks after the escape mechanism was activated, 90% of the crabs remained trapped in those models. The study then explored modifications to increase escapement rates. The great news is that after implementing simple modifications and repeating the escape experiment, all pots achieved the desired nearly 100% escapement rate.

The study, a Fishing for Energy Partnership grant managed by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation with funding from the NOAA Marine Debris Program, was led by the Northwest Straits Foundation, in partnership with Natural Resource Consultants, NOAA Fisheries, and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The results were shared with state agencies, and hopefully will contribute to gear modification and improvements of crab pot design and their escape mechanisms, and in a larger sense, reduce the mortality of crabs and other species associated with the loss of crab pots in the Puget Sound and elsewhere.

For additional information please contact Joan Drinkwin (drinkwin@nwstraitsfoundation.org), Kyle Antonelis (kantonelis@nrccorp.com), or Nir Barnea (nir.barnea@noaa.gov).

 

For more information on this project, visit the project profile page on our website.


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Equipment Entangled in Essential Ecosystems: How Marine Debris is Harming Hawaiian Corals

Coral reefs are diverse and important marine ecosystems, supporting a wide array of marine life. Not only do they provide essential structure for habitats, but corals themselves are a unique and beautiful type of animal. However, these animals are also very delicate and are under threat by a preventable problem: marine debris.

Although all types of marine debris can threaten corals, there is one type in particular that can cause a lot of harm: derelict fishing gear (DFG). DFG is fishing equipment that has been lost, abandoned or discarded, and it’s a big problem. These derelict nets, lines, crab pots and other gear can not only cause economic loss, but damage habitat and harm marine animals. Corals, which are animals that also serve as an important habitat for many other creatures, can be particularly impacted by this threat. Corals can be suffocated by nets that smother them and block out the sun, or can be damaged and broken by heavy DFG that snags as it drifts by. These damages don’t only impact these interesting animals, but can affect the entire ecosystem that relies on the coral reef.

In the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, this issue was seen first-hand by NOAA divers in October 2014 when a removal trip in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (PMNM) discovered an 11.5 ton “monster net” among the area’s delicate coral reefs. It took divers four days to remove the net in its entirety. Unfortunately, despite a location many miles from larger human populations, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are still impacted by marine debris, and nets entangled in corals are not a rare sight.

A diver attempts to remove a large net entangled in corals. (Photo Credit: NOAA)

A diver attempts to remove a large net entangled in corals. (Photo Credit: NOAA)

Luckily, this is a preventable problem and we can work to fix it. By participating in cleanup efforts, we can remove some of the debris that’s already there. Most importantly, we can also work to increase awareness of the problem and prevent more trash and worn-out fishing gear from becoming marine debris. For example, programs such as Fishing for Energy work to prevent more derelict fishing gear from ending up where it shouldn’t; Fishing for Energy gives fishermen a cost-free option to recycle their gear, which is then converted into usable energy.

Don’t forget, we created the problem and we can all be part of the solution! Debris from inland sources can travel far and can still end up as marine debris, so just because you don’t live near the shore or near a beautiful coral reef doesn’t mean that you can’t help! Let’s all do our part to keep our ocean beautiful.

coralsweek

#CoralsWeek


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Fishing for Energy Partnership Announces Grants to Support Marine Debris Prevention

Earlier today, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) announced this year’s grant awards from the Fishing for Energy Partnership. The NOAA Marine Debris Program is happy to be part of this collaboration, along with the NFWF and Covanta, to support the fifth round of grant awards, totaling more than $263,000.


The Fishing for Energy Partnership was launched in 2008 and works to reduce the amount of derelict fishing gear in U.S. waters by offering commercial fishermen a no-cost opportunity to dispose of old, lost or unusable fishing gear. This gear is then recycled and processed to generate electricity at Covanta Energy-from-Waste facilities. The mission is to reduce the adverse economic and environmental impacts of derelict fishing gear.

This year’s grant awards support projects to help commercial and recreational fishermen and boaters reduce the amount of fishing gear lost in the marine environment. The 2015 Fishing for Energy Partnership grants include:

Engaging Recreational Boaters in the Prevention of Commercial Fixed Gear Debris
The Boat U.S. Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water
Fishing for Energy Grant: $105,699 | Grantee Contributions: $140,580
Educate recreational boaters nationwide about specific means of preventing boat entanglement with fixed fishing gear and provide best practices to explain how to responsibly respond when entanglements do occur. Project will explore the user conflict between recreational boaters and fishermen and develop effective practices and messages to enhance debris prevention efforts through formal and informal boater education.

Reducing Derelict Crab Trap Generation in South Carolina through Engagement of Recreational Boaters and Commercial Crabbers
South Carolina Department of Natural Resources
Fishing for Energy Grant: $49,324 | Grantee Contributions: $19,241
Characterize crab trap float losses in South Carolina as a result of vessel strikes and engineer solutions to reduce the rate of annual derelict fishing gear accrual. Project will engage both recreational boaters and commercial crabbers to reduce the probability of severing crab trap floats when a boat collision cannot be avoided.

Reducing Derelict Gear through Educational Tools for Recreational Pot Fishermen in New England
Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries
Fishing for Energy Grant: $41,344 | Grantee Contributions: $3,663
Create a series of educational videos for recreational pot fishermen in New England. Project will demonstrate Best Management Practices for recreational fishermen and provide the education tools needed to reduce the incidence of derelict fishing gear.

Development of Side‐scan Sonar Methodology to Survey Derelict Lobster Pots in Sandy and Rocky Habitats in Massachusetts
Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries
Fishing for Energy Grant: $66,722 | Grantee Contributions: $10,672
Estimate derelict lobster pot density in Western Cape Cod Bay, Mass., using a full coverage side-scan sonar pilot survey. Project will develop a derelict lobster pot detection rate by using side-scan sonar on a known number of pots over both featureless and complex habitats.

To see the NFWF’s full press release, click here.