Fishing for Derelict Lobster Gear in Cape Cod and Massachusetts Bays

Lobstermen pulling a derelict trap out of the water.

The Center for Coastal Studies teamed up with the NOAA Marine Debris Program to recover derelict fishing gear in Cape Cod Bay and other areas of Massachusetts Bay. They used side scan sonar surveys to assess derelict gear abundance and collaborated with commercial fishermen for the derelict gear removal.

Type of Project: Community-based Marine Debris Removal Grant

Region: Northeast

Project Dates: September 2016 – November 2017

Who is involved?
With the support of a NOAA Marine Debris Program Community-based Marine Debris Removal Grant, the Center for Coastal Studies (CCS) worked with commercial fishermen to document and retrieve derelict lobster gear in Massachusetts waters. Other partners included commercial fishermen, Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, Provincetown Harbormaster, and the Massachusetts Lobstermen's Association.

What is the project and why is it important?
Ghost fishing occurs when lost or discarded fishing gear that is no longer under a fisherman’s control continues to trap and kill target species like fish and crustaceans, and non-target species like marine mammals, sea turtles, and seabirds. Derelict fishing nets and traps can continue to ghost fish for years once they are lost under the water’s surface. Storms, ship traffic, and interactions with other types of fishing gear are the primary mechanisms for gear loss, resulting in an estimated 1% to 5% annual rate of gear loss in the Massachusetts lobster fishery. In Cape Cod Bay, derelict lobster traps are estimated to kill 12,500 to 33,000 lobsters per year. By removing derelict fishing gear, ghost fishing can be reduced.

The Center for Coastal Studies conducted sonar surveys to identify derelict gear as removal targets within Cape Cod and Massachusetts Bays. Working with commercial lobstermen and divers, CCS recovered the derelict gear, which included lobster traps and parts, buoys, rope, and nets. They also photodocumented the recovered derelict fishing gear’s habitat impacts and bycatch, and then properly disposed of it. They estimated that by the end of this project, 17 tons of debris (or approximately 480 lobster traps plus two tons of associated gear) were removed from the marine environment. Once recovered, gear was returned to the owner (if identifiable), repurposed, recycled, or disposed of at an energy-from-waste plant.