Discarded Fishing Traps Wreaking Extensive Environmental Damage, NOAA Research Finds

It may not be something that you’ve ever given any thought to, but there are literally thousands of fishing traps that are lost or simply abandoned every year in US waters — what happens to these traps after being abandoned?

It should go without saying, they continue to catch and kill sea-life (fish, turtles, carbs, etc) — even though no one will be there collect there. A good example of some of the waste and carelessness that is so common in the world today. So what to do?


Well, according to a new study from NOAA, these losses from “ghost fishing” (as it’s known) are largely preventable — but that will require strong action, somewhat decidedly lacking in the national discourse lately.

“Before this report, the marine debris community lacked comparable data on derelict traps,” stated Courtney Arthur, research specialist for NOAA’s Marine Debris Program and lead author of the study. “We had different pieces of information, but not a whole picture. This paper connects those pieces and identifies areas where we need to focus our efforts.”

“People may not realize that derelict traps can catch not just the target species of the fishery, but also other animals including threatened and endangered species where populations are already very low. Derelict traps can also harm sensitive habitats like coral reefs and salt marsh so they have a bigger impact than might be anticipated,” noted Ariana Sutton-Grier, PhD, NOAA’s National Ocean Service ecosystem science adviser and co-author of the study.

The press release provides more:

The report looks at the results of seven NOAA-funded studies in different fisheries across the US, 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.

“By providing this comprehensive study, we allow resource managers to make more informed decisions that make sense for them and for the fishing industry,” stated Holly Bamford, PhD, assistant NOAA administrator for the National Ocean Service and a co-author of the report. “Marine debris is a continued threat to resilient ecosystems and navigation safety, and by working together we can find better solutions to keep coastal communities, economies and ecosystems healthy.”

The fisheries used in the study include: Dungeness crab fisheries in Alaska and the Puget Sound; blue crab fisheries in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina; a spiny lobster fishery in Florida; and a 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. Further, between 5% and 40% 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.

The new research was just published in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin.

1 thought on “Discarded Fishing Traps Wreaking Extensive Environmental Damage, NOAA Research Finds”

  1. The presence of a viable community in an otherwise area limited by attachment sites it seems that the lost trap provides a service rather than a detriment

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