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

 


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