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.