NOAA’s Marine Debris Program Reports on Derelict Fishing Traps

A new report from federal fisheries
officials says thousands of fishing traps are lost or abandoned each year in US
waters and become what are known as derelict traps, continuing to catch fish,
crab and other species, including turtles. 
These traps result in losses to habitat, fisheries and those who depend
on the resources – losses that are largely preventable, according to the study
published in the Marine Pollution Bulletin by the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration.
The report is the first of its kind to
examine the derelict fish trap problem and so-called “ghost fishing”
nationally, and recommends steps to better manage and prevent it.

The report, issued Aug. 27, looks at
results of seven NOAA-funded studies in US fisheries and compares the severity
of the problem, and common management challenges across the regions.  It also reports certain findings from studies
for the first time in peer-reviewed literature, such as estimates of derelict
trap numbers and how long they remain in the environment.

Researchers have concluded that derelict
traps have a cumulative, measurable impact that should be considered in fishery
management decisions, and suggested a management strategy that emphasizes a
collaborative approach, including involving the fishing industry in projects to
find solutions.

Fisheries in the study include Dungeness
crab in Alaska and Puget Sound, blue crab fisheries in Maryland, Virginia and
North Caroline, spiny lobster in Florida and the coral reef fish fishery in the
US Virgin Islands.

All seven fisheries contained derelict
traps, with average numbers ranging from five to 47 traps per square kilometer,
the report said. Between five and 40 percent of the derelict traps examined
showed evidence of ghost fishing. The length of time a trap continued to ghost
fish depended on environmental conditions and trap design, but in every fishery,
ghost fishing occurred longer than anticipated based on assumptions about gear
degradation, the report said.