Thousands of fishing traps are lost or abandoned each year in U.S. waters and become what are known as derelict traps, which continue to catch fish, crabs, and other species, according to a newly published NOAA study.
The report, published in the Marine Pollution Bulletin, is the first of its kind to examine the derelict fish trap problem, and so-called “ghost fishing,” nationally, and recommends actions to better manage and prevent it.
The report looks at the results of seven NOAA-funded studies in different fisheries across the U.S., and compares the severity of the problem, and common management challenges across the regions.
It also reports certain findings from the 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 concluded that derelict traps have a cumulative, measurable impact which should be considered in fishery management decisions. They identified several key gaps in research and suggested a management strategy that emphasizes a collaborative approach, including:
– studying how derelict traps and ghost fishing affect fishery stocks and the fishing economy
– involving the fishing industry in collaborative projects to find solutions to ghost fishing
– examining the regional challenges to derelict traps to find effective policy solutions to manage, reduce, and prevent gear loss
Fisheries in the study include the Dungeness crab fisheries in Alaska and Puget Sound; the blue crab fisheries in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina; the spiny lobster fishery in Florida; and the coral reef fish fishery in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
All seven fisheries contained derelict traps, with average numbers ranging from five to 47 traps per square kilometer. Further, between five and 40 percent of all the derelict traps examined showed evidence of ghost fishing.
The length of time a trap continued to ghost fish depended on the environmental conditions and trap design, but in every fishery, ghost fishing occurred longer than anticipated based on assumptions about gear degradation.
source: NOAA Fisheries