Grappling the Invisible: Removing Derelict Crab Pots from the Delaware Bay
A person taking a derelict crab pot out of the water.
This project is working to remove derelict crab pots from the Delaware Bay. (Photo Credit: NOAA)

The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Delaware Coastal Program is working with the NOAA Marine Debris Program and local commercial crabbers to locate and remove derelict crab pots from two heavily-fished areas of the Delaware Bay.

Type of Project: Community-based Marine Debris Removal Grant

Region: Mid-Atlantic

Project Dates: October 2016 - September 2019

Who is involved?
With the support of a NOAA Marine Debris Program Community-based Marine Debris Removal Grant and in partnership with local crabbers, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) Delaware Coastal Program (DCP) is helping to restore habitats by removing over 1,000 derelict crab pots from two areas in the Delaware Bay. DCP and their partners at DNREC Division of Parks and Recreation (Parks) will also focus on education and outreach efforts to prevent future derelict pots.

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 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. Through this project, the DNREC is hoping to learn more about addressing this type of debris by working to gather important scientific data that will guide their efforts to reduce the environmental impacts of marine debris and help protect resources in the Delaware Bay.

This project represents the first large-scale marine debris removal effort conducted in Delaware waters of the Delaware Bay. Using specialized equipment, commercial crabbers are working to identify and remove derelict crab pots within two heavily-fished areas of the Bay. Participating crabbers who help find and remove derelict pots will receive awards for their efforts, providing great opportunities for crabbers, DNREC staff, and the public to learn and talk about derelict crab pots. The DCP and Parks staff are also partnering with local artists to design a new marine debris sculpture and educational exhibit at the Cape Henlopen State Park Nature Center, in order to educate the public about derelict crab pots.

This project is running in tandem with a similar derelict crab pot removal project being conducted by the New Jersey Audubon in the New Jersey waters of the Bay, also funded through the NOAA Marine Debris Program.