Derelict Crab Traps in the Gulf of Mexico

DSC_7643 Traps are the most common way that blue crabs are harvested in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as along the Atlantic Coast. In the Gulf, traps were introduced as gear in the late 1940s and were the predominant gear by the 1950s. While they made harvest easier and more profitable for fishermen, problems arose especially regarding derelict traps.

According to NOAA’s Marine Debris Program, derelict fishing gear is any fishing equipment that has been “lost, abandoned, or discarded in the marine environment.” While some derelict traps are discarded intentionally, other instances such as theft, bad weather, or the lines being cut by boat propellers can cause traps to be lost.

derelict trapsOnce a trap is lost, it quickly becomes a hazard. Stray buoys and lines can be problematic for ships or boats and traps may be caught in shrimp trawls or ensnare recreational fishing lures. Ghost fishing poses a threat to animals in the area where the trap is lost. Ghost fishing occurs when lost gear continues to trap and kill animals, such as fish, crustaceans, reptiles, marine mammals, and sea birds. In the case of blue crab traps, the diamondback terrapin are a species of concern because they are listed as protected or endangered in some areas, and they share some habitat with blue crabs. Derelict cleanup efforts began in order to address some of these concerns.

In the Gulf of Mexico, the states began coordinating clean up efforts in the early 2000s. Relying on state agency employees, fishermen, and volunteers, derelict trap cleanup programs have become well established across the Gulf and many occur on an annual basis. Well over 60, 000 traps have been removed since then, and efforts have been so successful in some states that they now only organize cleanup events on an as needed basis.

The benefits of removing this debris from the water are many. There are less navigational hazards, less traps for animals to be killed in unintentionally, and less polluted coastal areas. Recently, a study also found that there is an economic benefit to trap removal. In the Chesapeake Bay, another major area for crab harvest, it was found that removing over 34, 000 traps led to an additional 13, 000 metric tons in harvest.

P1010863G.U.L.F has enjoyed participating in trap cleanup efforts in Louisiana over the last several years. Texas, Louisiana and Florida host annual clean up events as well. Mississippi and Alabama, due to their smaller coastlines and the efficacy of past clean up events, host volunteer derelict trap retrieval on an as needed basis. If you are interested in volunteering with a Trap Removal Program follow the links below for information on each state’s efforts.

Texas Abandoned Trap Removal Program

Louisiana Derelict Crab Trap Rodeos

Mississippi Derelict Trap Removal Program – as needed basis

Florida Derelict Trap Clean Up Events


G.U.L.F. Travels Entire Coast

We at Audubon Nature Institute’s Gulf United for Lasting Fisheries (G.U.L.F.) pride ourselves on the hands-on approach we take to sustainability and Gulf Coast seafood. We actively travel the Gulf of Mexico, speaking with management and industry on how to best advance the sustainability of our fisheries.

ashford pointing to Mexico

Ashford says “Mexico is that way, ” in Brownsville, TX.


Last week we completed the arc of the Gulf, having officially driven the entire coast, from Brownsville, TX on the Mexican border, to Key West, FL, the southernmost point in the continental U.S. in the last year and a half. While that is about 1, 700 miles from Point A to Point B, we have done it in several stretches, traveling a cumulative 27, 000 miles.


Blue crab sculpture in Rockport, TX.


We look forward to continuing to collaborate with the seafood industry across the Coast, advancing the sustainability of our well managed fisheries.

laura and ashford key west

Ashford and Laura at Southernmost point in Key West, FL.

News Roundup 3-6-15

1. Love seafood? New app helps you find the freshest catch. (more)
2. Seafood Summit in Houma on March 11th. (more)
3. January landings of shrimp in Gulf of Mexico second lowest in last decade. (more)
4. Florida Supreme Court keeps ban of gill nets intact. (more)
5. LDWF removes 400 crab traps from LA waters. (more)


Gulf United for Lasting Fisheries in 2014: A Year in Review

2014 was an incredible year for G.U.L.F.! We made huge strides, and look forward to continuing to unite the Gulf seafood industry in 2015. Here are some of our biggest accomplishments from the past year:

1. Start of Marine Advancement Plans

The start of 2014 marked the launch of our Marine Advancement Plan (MAP) project. MAPs are a tool to communicate the sustainability of Gulf fisheries to retailers, restaurants, or other businesses who want to know detailed information about the sustainability and management of Gulf State fisheries. In addition, MAPs will also identify areas within state management where advancements can be made to be consistent with an international standard of sustainability, Food and Agriculture Organization Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries Management. We are currently working on six MAPs.




Texas Blue Crab

Texas Shrimp

Mississippi Blue Crab

Alabama Blue Crab

Florida Stone Crab

Florida Blue Crab





2. Launch of

screen shot web home page

In March, we debuted our new website. Designed as a tool to educate businesses and consumers about sustainability and Gulf fisheries, houses details about our work, species information, and the latest news and events pertaining to Gulf seafood. Check in regularly for updates on our projects.

3. Outreach and Industry EngagementAudubon G.U.L.F. Outreach 05

G.U.L.F. is a regional program dedicated to the sustainability of state fisheries across the Gulf Coast. It is our goal to do outreach and education, as well as industry engagement, across all five Gulf States. We were incredibly busy in 2014 to achieve this goal, and have been successful. At festivals and outreach events, we encourage consumers to support local, domestic Gulf seafood for its unique taste, high quality, and rigorous management that ensures its sustainability.  We have traveled outside our region across the country to spread this message. During our travels we interview members of the industry, from harvesters to retailers, to hear their experiences with Gulf fisheries, how we can enhance the industry, and how they can get involved with our work.

4. Launch of Chef Council

chef council hi res

In October, G.U.L.F announced our formation of the G.U.L.F. Chef Council, a group of ten chefs dedicated to sourcing sustainable Gulf of Mexico seafood in their restaurants. Chaired by Chef Tenney Flynn of GW Fins, the Chef Council will partner with G.U.L.F. to act as a voice for promoting local, sustainable seafood.

5. G.U.L.F Certification Standard


Over the last two years, G.U.L.F. has been working on developing a standard that will certify Gulf of Mexico fisheries as sustainable. In December, we opened the first draft of the standard to public comment to ensure voices from the industry could be heard as we continue to move forward with this project. The first round of comments will be accepted until February 5th. Send an email to to submit your comment.

News Roundup 12/29/14

1.  Restaurant partner Meauxbar included in Gambit’s favorite restaurants of 2014.  (more)

2.  Commercial fishing workshop upcoming in Houma, LA. (more)

3.  Nova Southeastern University professor angling for invasive lionfish. (more)

G.U.L.F. Thanks Wegmans and Woods Fisheries for Supporting MAPs

fisherman dulacG.U.L.F.’s work would not be possible without the support of the seafood industry. We are excited to announce that Wegmans, the highly successful retailer, and Wood’s Fisheries, a shrimp processor in Florida and the only shrimp aquaculture facility in the state, have signed letters of support for G.U.L.F.

Since its founding in 1916, Wegmans has been dedicated to providing the best for its customers, along with continuous improvement in its service, stores, and product, especially seafood. Since 1995, Wegmans has purchased their seafood directly from boats, supporting the local fishermen in the Northeastern U.S. In 2008, they became a founding member of the Food Marketing Institute’s Sustainable Seafood Committee, which is focused on sharing best practices to navigate through sustainability issues and topics.

Carl Salamone, Vice President of Seafood Sustainability at Wegmans says:

“We believe that our commitment to Sustainability is successful only if our partners work together to continually monitor and improve fishing communities supplying Wegmans. Working with G.U.L.F. enables us to keep our associates updated with information which in turn will be given to our customers. This is a win-win situation resulting in customer confidence as they purchase U.S. Gulf seafood.”

G.U.L.F. is grateful for Wegmans’ support and look forward to helping them promote and carry the amazing seafood the Gulf of Mexico has to offer.


2014-05-14 11.57.34-2Located in Port St. Joe, Florida and founded in 1860, Wood’s Fisheries is a shrimp processor and fifth generation family-run business focused on providing quality Wild American Shrimp to their customers. Sustainability has been a focus for Wood’s shrimp throughout the company’s history, which led to Wood’s supporting G.U.L.F.’s sustainability work in Florida and across the Gulf Coast. Like G.U.L.F., not only does Wood’s look at how catching shrimp impacts the ecosystem, but they consider how fishing for shrimp affects the people who depend on the resource for their livelihood. IN order to provide assurance of sustainability to their customers, Wood’s is actively involved in many sustainability projects and provides detailed traceability on their product through Gulf Seafood Trace.

Testing Turtle Exclusion Devices (TEDs) with NOAA

One of the hot topics along the Gulf Coast is the incidental capture of sea turtles in shrimp nets. At one time, shrimp trawls were listed as the primary cause for sea turtle mortality in U.S. waters. There are six species of sea turtles that occur in the Gulf of Mexico (leatherback, loggerhead, Kemp’s ridley, olive ridley, green, and hawksbill) and all are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Since the late 1980s and early 1990s, multiple management techniques have been implemented to reduce the mortality of sea turtles in shrimp trawls, including reduced tow times and introduction of Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) into nets.

turtle totesThere are multiple shapes and designs of TEDs, with new ones being invented each year. In order for TEDs to be approved for use by NOAA, and to ensure minimal sea turtle mortality, they must be tested. Each year, a team of NOAA scientists from all over the southeastern U.S. converge on Panama City, FL to test current and new TED designs, as well as new Bycatch Reduction Device (BRD) designs that minimize the number of finfish caught in the nets.

G.U.L.F. was fortunate enough to join NOAA for a few days to experience what goes behind the development TED regulations, approval, and enforcement first-hand. The operation is quite impressive. Hundreds of young sea turtles, raised in captivity in Galveston, TX are carefully transported to holding pens in Panama City. Each morning, they are loaded into totes on the R/V Caretta. The numbers on the totes correspond with a tag on the turtle’s flipper to ensure no one gets lost.

Once the vessel reaches the trawling site, the boat becomes a flurry of activity. The boat captain and some of the crew prepare to lower the net into the water. Divers load their gear onto the dive boat and set off, waiting for the main vessel to reach a cruising speed of approximately 2.5 knots. A team of one or two boards a second zodiac where they will be in charge of retrieving turtles. Once everyone is ready, a precise and impressive process starts.

IMG_0179Three divers descend upon the trawl where they will be responsible for sending turtles through the net and collecting data. The turtles are, one by one, placed in a “bag” and sent down to the net and waiting divers by what is essentially a sea turtle zip line. Once the diver receives the turtle it is released into the trawl and given 5 minutes to escape as the divers record data. A diver is waiting at the opening of the TED to catch the turtle once it has escaped. A buoy is attached to the turtle’s carapace, which takes it to the surface to the waiting catch boat. If, after 5 minutes, the turtle has not escaped the net, the diver retrieves the turtle and sends it up to the surface. The catch boat retrieves the turtle and returns it to the Caretta and the process starts all over again.


A special thank you to the NOAA team for allowing us to tag along on the R/V Caretta. We appreciate the opportunity to allow us to better understand how TEDs work in the shrimp trawl fishery in the Gulf of Mexico, how they have helped reduce sea turtle mortality, and how continued research will help with the recovery of these endangered animals, and also help with the sustainability of the shrimp trawl fishery in the Gulf of Mexico.


Photo Credit: Dan Foster/NOAA

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