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Gulf Guardian Award Winners 2004

Government Category - 2nd Place

Project #: GG-04-03
Company: Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission, MS
Project Name: Derelict Trap Programs in the Southeast Region
Category: Government
Project Type: Habitat

Each year thousands of crab traps are lost or abandoned in the Gulf of Mexico. This program was initiated to recover the thousands of derelict traps that litter Gulf of Mexico estuaries, thus restoring critical nursery habitat and reducing bycatch mortality. The goal was to assist and support a local-state-federal cooperative program for recovery of derelict traps in the Gulf. The Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission worked in cooperation with the state marine resource agencies in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama to remove derelict traps from their estuaries. The program began July 1, 2003 and continues through June 30, 2004. Derelict crab traps result from numerous sources: weather or hydrological factors (tides, currents, or storm surges); senescence of buoys, lines, or knots; failure to assemble and maintain buoys and buoy lines properly; unintentional cutting of buoy lines by vessel propellers; and intentional cutting of buoy lines by vandals. Even after fishermen lose or abandon traps, these traps continue to catch fish, crustaceans, turtles, and other organisms. The Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission and the states of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida have identified derelict crab traps as a source of non-directed fishing mortality for marine organisms and a source of conflict among commercial and recreational water users.

Studies have shown that each derelict trap kills an average of 26 blue crabs per year until it deteriorates. Along with blue crabs, other animals like stone crabs, red drum, spotted seatrout, sheepshead, mullet, raccoons, and opossums are trapped and killed in traps. Additionally, ghost fishing by traps is a major threat to diamondback terrapins, a species currently being considered for Endangered Species status. Removing these traps also protects submerged seagrasses from the smothering effects these traps can cause. Removing derelict traps will reduce mortality of susceptible organisms, alleviate user group conflicts, and reduce visual pollution of our waters.

The four state programs removed a total of 11,478 derelict traps during their 2004 clean ups. Public participation was crucial to the success of the removal programs. The states did a commendable job in organizing the removals and gathering volunteers to participate in the removals. More than 100 community groups and 750 volunteers from diverse backgrounds participated in removal efforts and made the removal programs successful. The removal of 11,478 derelict traps represents a major step toward removing the thousands of derelict traps that litter Gulf of Mexico estuaries and mitigating their impact on fish, crabs, and other organisms and restoring critical estuarine habitat.

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Gulf of Mexico Program Office
Mail Code: EPA/GMPO
Stennis Space Center, MS 39529-6000
FAX: 228-688-2709

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