Developing a Fishermen-led Crab Pot Recovery Program in North Carolina

Participants remove a derelict crab pot.

The North Carolina Coastal Federation and the NOAA Marine Debris Program partnered to expand a fishermen-led crab pot recovery pilot project into a self-sustaining derelict crab pot retrieval program.

Type of Project: Community-based Marine Debris Removal Grant

Region: Southeast

Project Dates: July 2015 - July 2017

Who is involved?
This two year project, supported by a NOAA Marine Debris Program Community-based Marine Debris Removal Grant and led by the North Carolina Coastal Federation (NCCF), scaled up a previously supported pilot project to remove derelict crab pots from coastal North Carolina. NCCF partnered with the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries Marine Patrol, North Carolina Sea Grant, and commercial fishermen to implement the crab pot recovery program. NCCF also collaborated with community partners such as the Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Partnership, the National Park Service, The Nature Conservancy, the Town of Manteo, and Dare County to engage local volunteers in shoreline derelict fishing gear cleanups and data collection.

What is the project and why is it important?
Derelict commercial and recreational fishing gear has numerous ecological and economic impacts. These may include degrading sensitive bottom habitats, creating safety and navigation hazards, and continuing to catch harvestable species (a process known as “ghost fishing”), which results in lost catch opportunities and financial loss for fishermen. This project addressed the problem of derelict gear in North Carolina by engaging local fishermen in the development of a derelict gear recovery program.

Through this project, the North Carolina Coastal Federation and its partners worked with local fishermen to locate and recover 12 tons of derelict crab pots, restoring approximately 550,000 acres of oyster reef habitat. The fishermen used side-scan sonar to locate derelict pots and are collecting data including GPS location and pot contents. The project also included land-based volunteer cleanups to engage additional community stakeholders in the issues of marine debris and derelict fishing gear.

A key component of this project was research and assessment to make this fishermen-led effort a long-term, self-sustaining program. It explored creative and sustainable funding mechanisms, including acquiring funding from commercial and recreational fishing licenses or vessel registrations, auctioning pots, and other gear buy-back structures.