Norfolk, Va.: The U.S. government is launching a new program to combat the scourge of abandoned crab and lobster traps, which can dilute harvests and kill other fish in coastal waters from Maine to Alaska.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has chosen William & Mary’s Virginia Institute of Marine Science to anchor the program. The university announced that NOAA is providing an $8 million grant to the institute to implement the project.
Abandoned fishing gear is a worldwide problem that’s been referred to as anything from “ ghost nets ” to the “land mines of the sea.” The lost equipment is often dislodged by storms or passing boats, but it still will attract and kill marine life.
Industry experts and scientists estimate commercial fishermen lose about 10% of their traps per year to bad weather, strong currents and vessels that severes tie lines. A 2001 study suggested that ghost fishing kills 4 million to 10 million blue crabs each year in Louisiana alone.
The NOAA’s new program will fund efforts to remove derelict traps used to harvest blue, Dungeness and stone crabs as well as the American and spiny species of lobsters.
The program will collect nationwide data on where the lost traps are found and the types of marine life that are impacted. The information will be used to help inform efforts throughout U.S. coastal waters, said Kirk Havens, who directs the Center for Coastal Resources Management at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.