Cape May and Beyond: Ghost Crab Pot Removal in the Delaware Bay, Cape May Reef, and Southern Coastal New Jersey Bays
A person holding a derelict crab pot and a pile of derelict crab pots on a boat.
This project is working to remove derelict crab pots from coastal New Jersey and the Delaware Bay. (Photo Credit: NOAA (left); NJ Audubon (right))

The New Jersey Audubon, Northstar Marine, and Stockton University are working with the NOAA Marine Debris Program to locate and remove over 2,000 derelict crab pots from three critical areas of coastal New Jersey and the Delaware Bay.

Type of Project: Community-based Marine Debris Removal Grant

Region: Mid-Atlantic

Project Dates: October 2016 - September 2017

Who is involved?
The New Jersey Audubon, with the support of a NOAA Marine Debris Program Community-based Marine Debris Removal Grant and in partnership with Northstar Marine, Stockton University, and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Division of Fish and Wildlife, is helping to restore habitats by removing derelict crab pots from New Jersey Coastal Bays, Cape May Artificial Reef and the Delaware Bay. New Jersey Audubon Nature Center of Cape May and partners at the Jacques Cousteau National Estuarine Research Reserve are also focusing on education and outreach efforts to prevent future derelict pots. All data from this project will be published on the WeCrabNJ and New Jersey Audubon websites.

What is the project and why is it important?
Derelict crab pots can have a variety of impacts to an area, including creating navigational hazards, damaging habitats, and continuing to capture marine species (known as ghost fishing). When harvestable crabs are caught by derelict pots, it can result in lost catch opportunities and financial losses for commercial crabbers. Derelict crab pots are a particular problem along New Jersey’s coastal bays and within the Delaware Bay, but recovering derelict crab pots and other debris from this area can help to reduce the mortality of crabs, fish, and other species inadvertently trapped in derelict pots. This project led by New Jersey Audubon is bringing together partners and inciting a broad range of support from the state, the private sector, commercial fishers, and local communities to address this problem.

This project is focusing on derelict crab pots in three separate regions of New Jersey waters. From portions of the Delaware Bay near Cape May, New Jersey, Northstar Marine is removing approximately 2,000 derelict crab pots. Stockton University specialists, students, and volunteers are locating and removing derelict pots from three southern coastal bays. Additional derelict pots are also being removed from the Cape May Artificial Reef by professional, trained salvage divers.

In order to limit the re-accumulation of derelict crab pots, experts at Stockton University are training local commercial crabbers to use low-cost, but fully effective, sonar devices to locate their crab pots that are lost during the active crabbing season. These pots can be lost due to storms moving the pots or from their floats being cut by recreational boats traveling through crabbing areas. Based on Stockton University's previous work, when these small sonar devices are used, 80-90% of lost pots are recovered within days of being lost.

This project is running in tandem with a similar derelict crab pot removal project being conducted by the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control in the Delaware portions of the Bay, also funded through the NOAA Marine Debris Program.