Educating Recreational Boaters and Improving Crab Trap Float Riggings to Reduce Derelict Fishing Gear

A derelict crab pot with crabs caught inside and floats to rig a pot.

The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, the NOAA Marine Debris Program, and the Fishing for Energy partners teamed up to prevent derelict crab trap generation due to recreational boat strikes.

Type of Project: Fishing for Energy Grant

Region: Southeast

Project Dates: January 2016 - December 2017

Who is involved?
This two-year project was funded through the Fishing for Energy partnership between the NOAA Marine Debris Program, Covanta, and Schnitzer Steel Industries and administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF). The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) worked to reduce the generation of derelict crab traps by developing a float rigging design that is resistant to vessel strikes and conducting outreach to recreational boaters about the impacts of derelict fishing gear and how to avoid striking crab trap floats.

What is the project and why is it important?
Each year, nearly 7,500 crab traps are lost or abandoned in South Carolina’s coastal waters and about a third of these losses are believed to be due to vessel strikes cutting float lines. These derelict crab traps can have numerous negative environmental and economic impacts including damaging habitats, creating navigational hazards, and continuing to trap and kill various marine species including harvestable crabs (a phenomenon called ghost fishing), resulting in lost catch opportunities and financial losses for fishermen.

To prevent the generation of derelict crab traps, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources partnered with local crabbers to field test float rigging designs. They compared crabbers’ preferred float riggings with a best recommended design identified by the SCDNR in a previous Fishing for Energy project. The SCDNR also conducted field tests of evasive measures boats can use to avoid striking crab trap floats and cutting float lines. These field tests were used to develop recommended best practices.

In addition to conducting studies on vessel strikes and resilient float designs, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources implemented a robust education and outreach campaign for recreational boaters in South Carolina. The SCDNR worked with the NOAA Center for Coastal Environmental Health and Biomolecular Research to develop an educational video on the role recreational boaters play in creating derelict fishing gear and what they can do to prevent this problem. The video was used in traditional media and social media outreach and was streamed in the lobby of SCDNR boat titling offices. SCDNR also implemented an “Aware Boater” certification program, modeled off of Dolphin SMART, in which participating recreational boaters could receive a decal for watching the video and participating in a survey. The “Aware Boaters” then helped report areas where the placement of crab traps impede navigation. The SCDNR posted signs about preventing vessel strikes with crab trap floats at over 50 boat ramps and marinas throughout all of South Carolina’s coastal counties and distributed educational brochures at boat ramps, marinas, boat shows, and boat dealerships.

To measure the effectiveness of this outreach campaign in educating recreational boaters and reducing derelict crab traps generated by boat strikes, the SCDNR surveyed recreational boaters throughout the two-year campaign and will resurvey at least 30% of those boaters with additional follow-up questions.