Fishing for Derelict Lobster Gear in Cape Cod and Massachusetts Bays
Lobstermen pulling a derelict trap out of the water.
Lobstermen work to remove an old lobster trap from Massachusetts waters. (Photo credit: Center for Coastal Studies)

The Center for Coastal Studies is teaming up with the NOAA Marine Debris Program to recover derelict fishing gear in Cape Cod Bay and other areas of Massachusetts Bay. They’re using side scan sonar surveys to assess derelict gear abundance and collaborating with commercial fishermen for the derelict gear removal.

Type of Project: Community-based Marine Debris Removal Grant

Region: Northeast

Project Dates: September 2016 – November 2017

Who is involved?
With the support of a NOAA Marine Debris Program Community-based Marine Debris Removal Grant, the Center for Coastal Studies (CCS) is working with commercial fishermen to document and retrieve derelict lobster gear in Massachusetts waters. Other partners include commercial fishermen, Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, Provincetown Harbormaster, and the Massachusetts Lobstermen's Association.

What is the project and why is it important?
Ghost fishing occurs when lost or discarded fishing gear that is no longer under a fisherman’s control continues to trap and kill target species like fish and crustaceans, and non-target species like marine mammals, sea turtles, and seabirds. Derelict fishing nets and traps can continue to ghost fish for years once they are lost under the water’s surface. Storms, ship traffic, and interactions with other types of fishing gear are the primary mechanisms for gear loss, resulting in an estimated 1% to 5% annual rate of gear loss in the Massachusetts lobster fishery. In Cape Cod Bay, derelict lobster traps are estimated to kill 12,500 to 33,000 lobsters per year. By removing derelict fishing gear, ghost fishing can be reduced.

The Center for Coastal Studies is conducting sonar surveys to identify derelict gear as removal targets within Cape Cod and Massachusetts Bays. Working with commercial lobstermen and divers, CCS is working to recover the derelict gear, which includes lobster traps and parts, buoys, rope, and nets. They are also photodocumenting the recovered derelict fishing gear’s habitat impacts and bycatch, and then properly disposing of it. They estimate that by the end of this project, 17 tons of debris (or approximately 480 lobster traps plus two tons of associated gear) will be removed from the marine environment. Once recovered, gear is being returned to the owner (if identifiable), repurposed, recycled, or disposed of at an energy-from-waste plant.

For more information on this project, check out the Marine Debris Clearinghouse.