Identification and Retrieval of Derelict Crab Pots to Reduce Bycatch in Barnegat Bay
A project worker on a boat, tagging a derelict crab pot.
Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey project leaders tag their first derelict crab pots removed in Barnegat Bay. (Photo credit: Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey)

The NOAA Marine Debris Program is partnering with the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey to remove over a thousand derelict crab pots from Barnegat Bay, New Jersey. Together, they are also conducting an assessment to identify derelict pots in the bay, determine the percentage of pots that are lost annually, and inventory bycatch caught in retrieved pots.

Type of Project: Community-based Marine Debris Removal Grant

Region: Mid-Atlantic

Project Dates: September 2015 - September 2017

Who is involved?
The Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey (CWF) is removing over 1,000 crab pots from Barnegat Bay, NJ with the support of a NOAA Marine Debris Program Community-based Marine Debris Removal Grant. CWF is collaborating with Stockton University, Monmouth University, ReClam the Bay, the Marine Academy of Technology and Environmental Science (MATES; a vocational technical high school), the New Jersey Corporate Wetlands Restoration Partnership, and the fishing community to identify, retrieve, and inventory derelict crab pots. CWF is utilizing the Fishing for Energy program for waste to energy disposal of retrieved gear through a match provided by Covanta. This project is also focusing on education and outreach efforts, in part through partnership with the WeCrab project led by Rutgers University and supported by a NOAA Marine Debris Program Marine Debris Prevention through Education and Outreach Grant.

What is the project and why is it important?
An estimated 10% of all recreational and commercial crab pots are lost or abandoned in Barnegat Bay each year due to various reasons, including from storms and from passing boats accidentally cutting lines. These derelict crab pots can damage sensitive habitats, create navigational hazards, and continue 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. This project is not only working to remove these derelict pots, but also to better understand how many pots are lost in Barnegat Bay and what their impacts are.

The project partners are identifying and removing crab pots during two annual closed seasons for blue crab, typically December to March. Monmouth University and MATES are developing an inventory of all retrieved derelict pots during this time, which includes photographs of the pots, descriptions of all bycatch, and if pots include Terrapin Bycatch Reduction Devices (BRDs). The project is also surveying the commercial and recreational fishing community to gather information on the percentage of pots lost annually and to help develop a long-term reporting system for lost pots. All salvageable pots retrieved by the project are returned to their owners or made available to local crabbers, while non-salvageable pots are broken down and disposed of at the Barnegat Bay Fishing for Energy collection bin.

In addition to removal efforts, this project is conducting education and outreach activities focusing on the impacts of derelict crab pots. Print materials and decals are being developed with messaging on the impacts of marine debris and specifically derelict crab pots. In addition, the project is providing informational presentations for the community and local schools. A lesson plan is being developed to use at MATES and in the “Terrapin Education KIT modules,” which will be utilized by educators across the East and Gulf Coasts. The project is also collaborating with the WeCrab project led by Rutgers University to expand on its education and outreach efforts.

For more information on this project, visit the project's website or the Marine Debris Clearinghouse.