Ecosystem Considerations – FL Blue Crab

Habitat Impacts, Bycatch, and Discards

Habitat Impacts

Crab traps, the dominant gear used by the commercial fishery, are a relatively selective gear and are considered to have low impact on the environment due to static placement and use on low-sensitivity mud bottoms and oyster reefs (Guillory et al. 2001). Florida conducts a derelict trap removal program annually to reduce habitat impacts of lost or abandoned traps.

Bycatch and Discards


Crab traps do not cause high bycatch mortality and allow for live catch with minimal waste. Across the Gulf of Mexico, 23 finfish species, including recreationally significant species such as spotted seatrout (Cynoscion nebulosus), red drum (Sciaenops ocellatus), black drum (Pogonis cromis), and southern flounder (Paralichthys lethostigma) have been documented in blue crab traps (Guillory et al. 2001). Other invertebrates may also be caught in traps. Commercial fishermen in Florida are permitted to retain bycatch species caught in traps within the recreational limits and regulations set for that species (Commercial Saltwater Fishing Regulations Guide). Commercial blue crab fishermen are also allowed to take and sell up to five gallons of stone crab claw per day (68B-13.010 Stone Crab Trap Limitation Program). Studies in Louisiana and Mississippi found bycatch rates and mortality to be too low to present risk to the populations of bycatch species (Bourgeois, Marx, and Semon 2014, Graham et. al. 2012).


Traps are relatively size-selective and target a limited size range due to the diameter of trap funnels. Commercial fishermen cannot retain crabs smaller than five-inch carapace width (Florida Rules and Regulations, Chapter 68B-45). FWC requires a minimum of three escape rings, one on a ventricle outer surface adjacent to each crab retaining chamber, that are at least 2-3/8 inches in diameter.  A degradable panel is also required in crab traps to reduce bycatch of sublegal crabs and non-target species, and minimize impacts of lost or abandoned gear (Florida Rules and Regulations, Chapter 68B-45). Blue crab fishermen on the Atlantic Coast cannot have any floating line at the surface, must have a buoy lines that are modified to reduce the likelihood of marine mammal entanglement (NOAA Office of Protected Species- Atlantic blue crab, NOAA Office of Protected Resources).


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