Derelict Crab Trap Removal in the Barataria, Terrebonne, and Pontchartrain Basins

Volunteers fill a container with derelict crab traps collected during a "Derelict Crab Trap Rodeo" in 2014. (Photo Credit: Louisiana Sea Grant)
Volunteers fill a container with derelict crab traps collected during a "Derelict Crab Trap Rodeo" in 2014. (Photo Credit: Louisiana Sea Grant)

The NOAA Marine Debris Program partnered with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to implement a derelict crab trap removal program. This effort included large-scale removal, education and outreach, and volunteer events in the Barataria, Terrebonne, and Pontchartrain basins near New Orleans, Louisiana.

Type of Project: Community-based Marine Debris Removal Grant

Region: Gulf of Mexico

Project Dates: July 2015 - December 2017

Who is involved?
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF), with the support of a NOAA Marine Debris Program Community-based Marine Debris Removal Grant, implemented a multifaceted program to address derelict crab traps in the Barataria, Terrebonne, and Pontchartrain basins near New Orleans, Louisiana. The LDWF had dedicated staff to locating and removing derelict crab traps year-round and partnered with the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program (BTNEP) and the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation (LPBF) to hold two large-scale volunteer events called “Derelict Crab Trap Rodeos.”

What is the project and why is it important?
The Louisiana blue crab fishery is the third largest and third most valuable fishery in the state. Of the total blue crab catch, more than 70% comes from the Barataria, Terrebonne, and Pontchartrain basins. These three basins are the most heavily crabbed areas in south Louisiana and have a high rate of crab trap abandonment and loss due to factors such as tides, currents, storm surges, improperly assembled or maintained lines and floats, and crab pot lines inadvertently cut by passing vessels. These derelict crab traps can damage 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.

To address the issue of derelict crab traps, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries aimed to remove thousands of derelict traps from the Barataria, Terrebonne, and Pontchartrain basins. This removal effort included year-round work by two biologists to identify derelict crab traps with side-scan sonar, remove the identified traps, and to conduct crab trap accumulation surveys. The LDWF also held two large-scale “Derelict Crab Trap Rodeos” with the BTNEP and LPBF during the blue crab fishery’s closed season. All removed crab traps were documented with a survey form which records information on where traps were found, the presence of trap tags, and details of any bycatch in the traps. This information was then analyzed to identify the ecological and economic impacts of ghost fishing in the region.

In addition to these removal efforts, this project incorporated outreach and two innovative solutions to reuse derelict traps. The first reused recovered traps that remain fishable through a pilot program in which volunteers retrofited the traps with biodegradable panels (to lessen the likelihood of ghost fishing) and made them available through a trap exchange program. Additionally, the LDWF conducted a crab trap art contest, in which local artists used removed traps to create sculptures and a panel of judges selected the top sculptures to display at boat launches throughout coastal Louisiana. Each chosen sculpture was displayed along with an informational piece about marine debris and the impacts of derelict fishing gear.