Gone Ghost Fishin’

An explanation of Ghost Fishing and the release of our latest Derelict Crab Trap Removal Program report and factsheet.

Volunteer at the Derelict Crab Trap Removal Project

So who are these ghosts and why are they fishing? And what’s that got to do with crab?
Well, there aren’t any real ghosts with fishing poles (or so we hope).


But there are crab traps.


Ghost Fishing is a process that occurs when a lost or abandoned crab trap continues to catch crabs and other creatures. For example, some crab traps remain lost long enough for barnacles to grow on their surface. Sheepshead, a fish named for its large teeth, eat barnacles regularly and may see the trap as a perfect place to have a meal.


This fish may succeed in finding dinner, but once it's done, it might not be able to leave the trap. Cue the next hungry creature. Crabs are resourceful and will eat nearly anything, including freshly dead fish. The sheepshead may seem like an easy meal, but just like its prey, the crab will be stuck and likely bait another unlucky creature into the trap. Fish, turtles, and birds have all been found in deserted traps.

Placement of cull rings in blue crab traps Kirk J. Havens
Placement of cull rings in blue crab traps Kirk J. Havens

This video shows the parts of a crab trap and how to set one up.

Crab traps usually have either a few funnel-shaped openings or swinging doors to allow crabs in. In the State of Louisiana, they are required to have at least 3 escape rings to let undersized crabs escape. They must also have a float-line attached to make the trap visible to any water vessel.

Rectangular wire traps are the primary tool of the crabbing industry, and they are highly effective. Unfortunately, they are so efficient that even after they are abandoned, they can still catch crabs and other creatures.

A single commercial crabber may lose 25% of their traps each year, and although these now abandoned or derelict traps are unmaintained they continue to trap not only other creatures but blue crabs too. When blue crabs are caught by abandoned traps, the stock available to commercial crabbers is reduced. Abandoned traps create a new form of competition for the fishery, one that’s doing unknown harm to the viability of the industry crabbers, and even New Orleans chefs, depend on.

Blue crab is also a crucial resource for other marine animals. It is a staple in the diet of otters, heron, gar, tarpon, and flounder. Ghost fishing is having unknown impacts on the harvestable population of the blue crab, diminishing the ecological role this species plays on the Louisiana coast.

Abandoned traps also pose a threat to boat navigation. Abandoned traps also pose a threat to boat navigation. Float lines attached to crab traps are frequently cut by boat propellers. Without float lines, traps become invisible to shrimpers and recreational boaters, ending up tangled in shrimper’s nets and causing damage to boat propellers.

Since 2016, we have worked with our partners at the Louisiana Department of Fish and Wildlife (LDWF) who close the fishery in a small geographic area for the Derelict Crab Trap Removal Project. We take that time to rally volunteers and hire commercial boats to clean up the region. Last year we cleaned up 3,255 derelict traps from shores and waterways. You can learn more about our progress in our latest Derelict Crab Trap Program report here.


Each year we improve our efforts. To this date, we have removed 12,325 abandoned traps from the marine environment. Estimates suggest that there are currently 60,600 visible traps still lost in the Pontchartrain Basin and 100,000+ more are lost each year. The success of the Derelict Crab Trap Removal Program is in the best interest of conservationists and crab fisherman alike.

DCTR Fishery Data

Blue crab is a mainstay of New Orleans cuisine and makes up an important commercial fishery. Here are some blue crab facts that show how important commercial crabbing is to Louisiana, and why we should care about ghost fishing.

2018 DCTR Facts

Some facts and figures from our latest Derelict Crab Trap Removal Project report.

At PC we want to see the blue crab industry thrive because it provides thousands of jobs and gives people all over the world a chance to taste a bit of our culture. We also believe in creating safe, open spaces for boaters and others to utilize the lake including other wildlife.  We are looking for support to continue our work, including corporate sponsorship, donations, and volunteers. Please join us in sustaining a healthy blue crab population, a robust marine habitat, and safe recreational waters.