NOAA's Marine Debris Blog

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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

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Is Beach Litter Rerouting Your Summer Vacation?

By: Leah Henry

MD-econ_graphic_1 (1)

Debris on beaches is unsightly! And like the residents in the NOAA Marine Debris Program-funded economics study in Orange County, California, you too might be deterred by beaches with high levels of marine debris and that concern may influence which beaches you visit. In this study, led by Industrial Economics Inc., we discover how marine debris influences decisions to go to the beach and what it may cost.

Southern California residents lose millions of dollars each year avoiding littered, local beaches in favor of choosing cleaner beaches that are farther away. By reducing marine debris by 25 percent at beaches in and near California’s Orange County could save residents roughly $32 million over three summer months by decreasing travel distances to enjoy the beach. Reducing marine debris on beaches can prevent financial loss and provide economic benefits to residents and given the enormous popularity of beach recreation throughout the United States, the magnitude of recreational economic losses associated with marine debris has the potential to be substantial.

For more information and to download the study, please visit our website. 

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Microplastics Found in Chesapeake Bay Surface Water Samples

By: Leah Henry

In partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Oxford Labthe NOAA Marine Debris Program collected surface water samples from four tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay, using the techniques described in the document, “Marine Debris Monitoring and Assessment: Recommendations for Monitoring Debris Trends in the Marine Environment,” and found microplastics in 59 of 60 samples.

Though the impacts of these tiny plastic particles (smaller than 5.0 mm in size) on wildlife and the environment is unknown, many ongoing studies are hoping to soon answer those important questions.

University of Maryland Professor Dr. Lance Yonkos was not surprised by what they found in the bay. As the lead author of this study, Yonkos’ take home message is one of prevention, “If we want to reduce microplastics in the oceans we need to limit their release at the source.” Find out more from the Photo Essay: Microplastics in the Chesapeake Bay.

All Photos by Will Parson, courtesy of the Chesapeake Bay Program.

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Southeast Region: Marine Debris Research

By: Leah Henry

The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources tests the effectiveness of different float configurations to reduce or prevent derelict crab traps. Recovered crab traps will be used to create oyster reef habitat that will promote new reef development.

To learn more about this marine debris research project visit our website.

This project is part of a Fishing for Energy gear innovation grant, administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and funded by the NOAA Marine Debris Program.

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National Fishing and Boating Week: An opportunity to prevent marine debris!

In celebration of National Fishing and Boating Week which begins today, the NOAA Marine Debris Program is sharing a few fishing gear-focused projects, partners, and papers. Wildlife can become trapped or entangled in fishing gear and this “derelict gear” (fishing line, nets, and pots) may continue to capture fish and other marine species while at sea but you can help.

We want you to have a successful and marine debris free week so we’ve included a handful of tips you can use while out enjoying the great outdoors (streams, rivers, lakes, and ocean).

crab entangled in derelict net

crab entangled in derelict net

When fishing, make an effort to:

– Retrieve line/gear when it is caught or tangled

– Find a fishing line recycling bin

– Ask local bait shops if recycling is available

– Dispose of fishing line properly


This may not seem like a big deal but fish, turtles, birds, and other wildlife can be spared an unpleasant encounter with fishing gear if you take the time to ensure its proper disposal.

A preventable problem with big impacts and simple solutions!


Spotlight: Ghost Trap Recovery and Research Ramped Up Across the Country

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:

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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 the 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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