Abandoned crab traps pose a serious threat to wildlife both in and out of the water.
These devices tend to “trap” animals or “ghost fishing”. This causes the death of target crab species, non-target fin fish species, such as red drum and spotted sea trout, and other vulnerable species such as the diamondback terrapin.
Programs to remove derelict crab traps from the environment document the ability of these “ghost” traps to capture several dozen species other than the target crab species. Various programs remove thousands of abandoned traps annually, about a third or more of which contained trapped animals. Clearly this problem requires a solution greater than simply cleaning up the mess. Abandoned traps repurposed for good uses, such as providing substrate for oyster reefs to grow, were not enough.
Studies have shown that abandoned crab traps can be recovered from the environment and modified to support the development of oyster reefs. Oyster reefs provide a wide range of valuable ecosystem services by improving water quality, by providing habitat for a diverse range of fin fish and invertebrates, and by protecting shorelines from erosion.
Reducing impacts of abandoned crab traps.
In 2014, the SCDNR MRD received a one-year grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF). The grant surveyed commercial crabbers in South Carolina. Said surveys studied the rate of derelict trap generation and sources of trap loss. Three main sources of trap loss were indicated by 92 commercial crabbers located across the entire coastline. Boat strikes accounted for nearly one-third of annual losses.
In 2016, the SCDNR MRD received a two-year grant from NFWF to continue efforts to reduce derelict crab traps. The first part of this new grant concentrated on the ‘best design’ of crab trap floats. In fall 2016, a total of 285 float riggings were provided to 29 crabbers located between Beaufort and Little River. The new float design actually prevented trap loss following boat strikes.