Minimizing Ghost Crab Pot Fishing in Maryland

Blue crabs trapped in a derelict pot.

SERC evaluated existing crab pot technologies to reduce the impact of Maryland ghost crab pots in the Chesapeake Bay.

Project Dates: April 2014 - June 2016

What is the project?
The Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) gathered information on the extent of the ghost crab pot problem, determined the range of technologies available to solve the problem (technology for preventing the lost pots from ghost fishing or for enabling the recovery of these pots by watermen), engaged watermen, state agencies, and the public, in evaluating solutions, and collaborating with similar efforts in Virginia.

What does it accomplish?
SERC created a Chesapeake Bay-wide conversation to develop a potential ghost pot solution by evaluating existing crab pot bycatch reduction technology and solicited feedback on that technology from watermen in Maryland. SERC also promoted these solutions by educating the general public who use pots in a recreational fishery or may encounter pots while boating. Upon initial review, some current technologies designed to reduce "ghost fishing,” such as side scan sonar to improve pot retrieval success, seem adaptable for use in the blue crab fishery. By soliciting feedback from the local watermen and developing an understanding of the ways pots are most commonly lost, assessing what the financial incentive would be if lost pots could be recovered, and finding out whether crabbers currently attempt to recover lost pots, SERC identified the drivers and suggest behavioral changes and technological solutions to meet those needs.

Who is involved?
As part of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Fishing for Energy program and with funding from the NOAA Marine Debris Program, SERC worked towards developing a sustainable reduction in the number of 'ghost' crab pots within the Maryland portion of the Chesapeake Bay.

What is something unique about the project?
In 2007, the NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office Habitat Assessment Team conducted a side-scan sonar survey and projected that there were 84,567 derelict crab pots in MD's portion of Chesapeake Bay. The loss of crabs and other species to 'ghost' crab pots each year potentially has a significant impact on harvests and the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem that could be reduced through the adoption of behaviors or technologies that prevent pot loss or enable crab pot recovery.