Improving Derelict Crab Pot Escape Mechanisms

A top down view of a crab pot with three green panels that will dissolve over time.

The Virginia Institute of Marine Science at the College of William and Mary, is working to reduce ecological and economic impacts associated with lost gear in coastal Washington and Alaska. 

Type of Project: Fishing for Energy Grant

Region: Pacific Northwest and Alaska

Project Dates: January 2019 - January 2020

Who is involved?
The Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) at the College of William and Mary, with the support of a Fishing for Energy grant, a partnership between the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Covanta, and NOAA’s Marine Debris Program, will reduce ecological and economic impacts associated with lost gear in coastal Washington and Alaska by incorporating an innovative bio-hinge mechanism into Dungeness crab traps. 

What is the project and why is it important?
Trap loss is common among crustacean fisheries and lost traps can continue to capture and kill both target crab species and non-target species, such as fish. Depending upon the local environmental conditions, the trap design, and construction material, lost traps can continue to trap crabs and other species for years. In the Salish Sea alone, it is estimated that over 12,000 traps are lost annually, competing with active fishing gear to catch almost 178,000 Dungeness crabs. 

The project seeks to disarm lost traps sooner by using technology that allows part of the trap to dissolve over time through the addition of a biodegradable panel. Once the bio-hinge degrades, the gate detaches, allowing trapped animals to escape. VIMS researchers will test the effectiveness of bio-hinges in the recreational Dungeness crab fishery, as well as in derelict traps. Through this project, VIMS researchers hope to develop an inexpensive and easy to implement solution to the well-known problem of lost and derelict Dungeness crab traps.