Crab traps removed to reduce ghost fishing in Tampa Bay waters

02/28/11 Matthew Cimitile
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Unused crab traps can harm marine life. Over 20 people helped remove derelict crab traps from Tampa Bay waters this weekend.

Each year thousands to possibly millions of pounds of trash end up in waterways around Tampa Bay. Whether it is fishing line discarded at sea, cigarette filters thrown on beaches or plastic bags that runoff into sewers, marine debris harms and kills animals such as blue crabs, brown pelicans and turtles, pollutes water and impacts local tourism. Serra Herndon is habitat restoration director for Tampa Bay Watch.

“Marine debris is a problem with all of the development that we have and the tourism that we have. Garbage is a problem, a lot of the times it is not intentional, sometimes of course it is intentional, but a lot of the time it isn’t and it is a huge problem when you have this many people visiting and living on the water. Unfortunately stuff is going to end up in the water.”

One of the most destructive types of marine debris is derelict crab traps. On Saturday, Tampa Bay Watch organized a derelict crab trap removal north of the Courtney Campbell Causeway. It hosts several each year. Herndon said it is important to remove these traps because even though they are no longer used by crabbers, they continue to catch and kill crabs and other marine life.

“The problem with derelict traps is that these traps just sit there and do what we call ghost fishing. No one is checking on the traps, nobody is releasing the crabs, nobody is taking the crabs. They are just sitting there trapping the fish and they are basically starving and suffocating and dying in these traps without any way to get out. We also find mullet, we find snook, we find lots of toad fish and very, very occasionally we could find terrapins which are a brackish water turtle. Their populations have been decimated in Tampa Bay and one of the reasons is because they get trap in the derelict traps and can’t get out. So it is good because it helps us to not only save these poor little critters that get trapped in there but also cleaning up marine debris from the environment and taking out a navigational hazard out of the water.”

To collect derelict crab traps that can be found in as shallow as one foot of water, Tampa Bay Watch teams up with the Florida Airboat Association and the USGS. Airboats, unlike regular boats, are able to get into the shallow flats where many traps are located. Gary Hill, Bureau Watercraft Safety Program Manager for the USGS and one of the airboat captains, said the weather conditions made it easy to locate and remove derelict traps.

“Today was just a gorgeous day, we had light winds and visibility of the water was very clear. We had no problem at all finding a lot of traps that were derelict just from visibly seeing them. We got a total of 9 traps, some came from as shallow as one foot of water and some came from as deep as 6 feet of water. Because of the conditions of the traps that we got these were true derelict traps. They were really compressed, hit by outboard motors. There was very little by catch in there. We did find some traps with live fish in there and we released those fish before we brought them on board.”

About 50 crab traps were removed from the bay waters north of Courtney Campbell on Saturday. Hill said efforts like these have really made a difference in improving the environment of Tampa Bay.

“I live in Tampa and I really support the environmental cause here in Tampa. Everyone I talk with say Tampa Bay Watch is making a real impact on the Bay from planting oyster beds to sea grass beds. People are seeing the water clarity increase around here and they all think it is attributable to doing what we do here as volunteers and help the environment in the Tampa Bay area.”

The crab trap removals typically take place during extreme low tide events during the winter, when derelict traps are most exposed.

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