PC's boat collecting derelict crab traps, Feb 2019
Pontchartrain Conservancy receives grant to assist crab fishery.
Thanks to a NOAA Marine Debris grant, PC, in partnership with the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) and our team of volunteers, will remove 6000 derelict crab traps from the Pontchartrain Basin. This project will remove 34 tons of marine debris from our estuary and prevent the derelict traps from ghost fishing beginning in 2020.
Ghost fishing is the continued capture of crabs and fish without fishers’ maintenance or baiting of traps. Though the bait in crab traps may only last a few days, un-baited crab traps can still effectively trap blue crabs. One way a crab trap can become re-baited is by attracting fish that get stuck and die in the trap. Many fish, such as sheepshead, forage on organisms such as crabs, bivalves, and barnacles that adhere to hard substances. These organisms are located inside or directly on the derelict crab trap. While foraging on these organisms, a sheepshead may become trapped and eventually die in the crab trap, thus rebaiting the trap repeatedly. More crabs enter the trap to feed on the dead sheepshead thus continuing the ghost fishing process. Many different species of fish, birds, reptiles, and mammals have been observed dead in crab traps. To date, PC has observed 28 different species of bycatch in derelict crab traps!
Not only are derelict crab traps a hazard to animals, but they are also a navigational hazard to boaters and commercial fishers. Components of derelict crab traps like floats and lines can easily become tangled in boat props and the traps themselves can be struck by boats and boat engines in shallow waters causing damage. They also cause impact to commercial shrimp fishing by disrupting work, damaging nets, and reducing catch. Derelict crab traps can cause impacts on land as well. Traps can be washed ashore or discarded of, once on land they can trap birds, raccoons, and other marsh animals. Even once disintegrated, derelict crab trap components (such as escape rings) can entrap or entangle fish and birds, and also contribute unwanted micro-plastics and metals in the environment.
For the first time in program history and with the help of VIMS, side-scan sonar will be used to identify derelict traps that are not visible by means of a line and float. This information will allow for improved data on density and economic impacts. Using specialized software and high accuracy GPS equipment, the project team will also collect biological data on contents, location, and condition of traps.
Since 2016, almost 9,000 derelict crab traps have been removed from the Pontchartrain Basin by PC efforts. This partnership will help to remove some of the potentially 130,000 derelict traps still scattered along the Louisiana coast.