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Lobster Trap Debris in the Florida Keys: A Look Back

The NOAA Marine Debris Program 10 year anniversary identity marker.

 

Over the years of the NOAA Marine Debris Program, there have been many efforts around the country to rid our waters and shores of marine debris. As part of our ten-year anniversary celebration, let’s take a look back at one of those efforts in our Southeast region.

 

Derelict fishing gear can cause lots of problems, including damaging important and sensitive habitats, ghost fishing, and posing hazards to navigation. Unfortunately, derelict commercial lobster and crab traps are a prominent type of marine debris in the Florida Keys.

Back in 2007, the NOAA National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science’s (NCCOS) Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research (CCFHR), funded by the NOAA Marine Debris Program, partnered with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to research this issue. Using towed-diver surveys, they identified and counted trap debris as well as any other marine debris they encountered in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

A researcher surveys derelict traps during a towed diver survey.

A researcher surveys derelict traps during a towed diver survey. (Photo Credit: NOAA)

From these surveys, they found 1,408 marine debris items, almost 70 percent of which were trap-related debris! This included both ghost traps (which continue to actively fish, trapping and killing marine animals) and non-fishing traps in various stages of degradation. From their data, they estimated that over 85,000 ghost traps and over a million non-fishing traps could be found in the waters of the Florida Keys at that time. They also determined that winds likely play a role in moving derelict traps, since the surveyed trap debris was found in highest densities in coral reef habitats (a place not commonly targeted by fishermen).

Research like this is an important part in the fight against marine debris. This project helps us to understand where trap debris accumulates and thus allows us to more effectively focus removal efforts. For more information on this project, check out this old blog post, the scientific paper published from the study, and the Marine Debris Clearinghouse. For more on research projects supported by the NOAA Marine Debris Program, check out our website.


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A New Study Looks at Derelict Traps in the Florida Keys

Research is an important part of our fight against marine debris, as it allows us to learn more about the topic and be better able to target and address it in the future. Thanks to a new study by our very own Chief Scientist, Amy Uhrin, we now know a little more about derelict lobster traps and how they impact habitat in the Florida Keys. Read all about it and get the link to the scientific paper in this NOAA Response and Restoration blog post.

A derelict lobster trap frame with bio-fouling (most of the side slats are missing) sits on mixed seagrass and hard-bottom habitat.

Check out the blog post on NOAA’s Response and Restoration blog for a detailed look at this exciting study. Here, a derelict lobster trap frame with bio-fouling (most of the side slats are missing) sits on mixed seagrass and hard-bottom habitat. (NOAA)


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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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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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Know Your Enemy: Marine Debris Research is Essential to the Fight Against It

Microplastics are at the forefront of marine debris research. (Photo Credit: NOAA)

Microplastics are at the forefront of marine debris research. (Photo Credit: NOAA)

In the fight against marine debris, research plays an important role. New studies have helped us to better understand the issue, although research into marine debris, its sources, and its impacts is still fairly new and there are questions that remain unanswered.

The NOAA Marine Debris Program supports research projects that help to address some of these unanswered questions—questions like: What are the biggest debris sources and what types are most abundant? How is marine debris really affecting natural resources and our economy? Are the chemicals in plastics leaching out into the marine environment? By answering some of these unknowns, research can help us to mitigate impacts, improve current fishing gear setups, and raise awareness of the issue by improving our understanding of marine debris’ harmful impacts.

Here is a small sampling of the research supported by the NOAA Marine Debris Program. Click each project to learn more:

Analysis of Microplastics in Chesapeake Bay and Coastal Mid-Atlantic Water Samples: For this project, the University of Maryland’s Wye Research and Education Center Aquatic Toxicology Group looked at water samples from different areas of the Chesapeake Bay to assess the presence of microplastics and to find any trends between location and microplastic concentration.

Influence of Environmental Conditions on Contaminants Leaching From, and Sorbing To, Marine Microplastic Debris: The Virginia Institute of Marine Science is researching how various factors, like characteristics of the environment, may affect the contaminants leaching from (or attaching to) microplastic debris.

Examining Microplastic Occurrence in the Gut Contents of Sargassum-Associated Juvenile Fishes: The University of Southern Mississippi is investigating if fish that use floating algae as habitat (where marine debris can often be found) are eating microplastics with their natural diet and if so, how much.

Quantification of Marine Microplastics in the Surface Waters of the Gulf of Alaska: The University of Washington Tacoma and UW’s Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean used water samples from the Gulf of Alaska to determine the general distribution and quantity of microplastics, as well as to determine if the 2011 Japan tsunami had an effect on microplastic accumulation in that area.


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Northeast Region: Derelict Fishing Gear

By: Keith Cialino and Leah Henry

Ghost fishing occurs when lost or discarded fishing gear, that is no longer under a fisherman’s control, continues to trap and kill fish, crustaceans, marine mammals, sea turtles, and seabirds. Derelict fishing nets and traps can continue to ghost fish for years after they are lost. Every year marine species, from lobsters and fish to sea lions and birds, become trapped or entangled in lost, abandoned or discarded fishing gear. Fishing for Energy works to prevent those impacts.

In 2014, the Fishing for Energy partnership successfully diverted 328,580 pounds of gear at 11 bin locations located within the Northeast region. 

 Map of Fishing for Energy bin locations in the Northeast (Photo Credit: NFWF)

Map of Fishing for Energy bin locations in the Northeast (Photo Credit: NFWF)

Fishing for Energy is a partnership between the NOAA Marine Debris Program, Covanta Energy Corporation (link is external), National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (link is external) (NFWF), and Schnitzer Steel Industries (link is external), to prevent and reduce the impacts of derelict fishing gear in the marine environment. The program provides the fishing community no-cost options for disposing of old or unwanted gear, nets, line, and rope and together Fishing for Energy partners convert that gear into energy.

Since 2008, the Fishing for Energy partnership has provided collection bins at 37 participating ports in nine states, drawing over 2.8 million pounds of fishing gear. Gear collected at the ports is first sorted at Schnitzer Steel for metals recycling, and the remaining non-recyclable material is converted into energy at Covanta Energy locations. Approximately one ton of derelict nets equals enough electricity to power one home for 25 days.

Additionally, the NOAA Marine Debris Program released its Ghost Fishing Report earlier this year to provide a summary of the current scientific knowledge on the topic.

Find out more about Marine Debris efforts in the Northeast at http://marinedebris.noaa.gov/northeast

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