Beginning of the Program to Rid the Bay of Lost Crab Traps

Art Morris, Outreach Specialist, Coastal Fisheries Division, TPWD

Lost or abandoned crab traps are a problem for all users of Texas marine waters. First introduced to Texas in the late 1940’s, the wire crab trap has made a positive impact on fishing efficiency and harvest, however the proliferation of trap use has led to user conflicts and other problems associated with lost or discarded crab traps. Removing thousands of traps can be expensive and time consuming. Texas was overwhelmed with the problem, until the 76th Legislature created a volunteer program through Senate Bill 1410 to cleanup traps.

view of two volunteers evaluating 
	abandoned crab trap

In February of 2002, the first abandoned crab trap removal program was conducted and the resulting effort was so effective, it is inspiring other Gulf states to tackle the issue as well. In fact, it was so successful that another concentrated effort is planned for February in other years and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) is looking for volunteers to lend a helping hand.

During the February 2002 effort, 554 volunteers representing over 60 organizations, businesses and government entities helped remove 8,070 traps from all the major bay systems along the Texas coast. Galveston Bay led the way with 3,214 traps removed, followed by San Antonio Bay with 2,131. Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) Texas was a key supporter of the program and secured a much needed $14,000 grant from the FishAmerica Foundation to help TPWD offset expenses. Other organizations or businesses like the Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries Program, Wimberly Investments, Berkley, Best Manufacturing, Saltwater Conservation Association (SCA) and many others donated significant time and resources to assist with the cleanup.

pile of collected traps

Lost traps are capable of fishing continuously for many months, if not years, after they have been lost. This unattended fishing by crab traps is often referred to as “ghost fishing”. Biologists estimated that over 11,000 organisms were saved just during the week of the cleanup last year. Even more were saved when you consider that the traps were removed and will not continue to kill more fish and crabs throughout the year. Twenty-one species of organisms, many commercially or recreationally important, were observed in these traps with blue crab and stone crab representing 76% of the organisms observed.

Lost traps have also been a source of user conflicts. Boaters and fishermen that have come in contact with these lost traps with their motors and fishing gear often end up with costly repairs or loss of valuable fishing time. These traps may also be damaging sensitive habitat, such as sea grasses, in some areas. Additionally, the removal of lost traps enhances the natural beauty and aesthetic value and the experiences we have while being out in Texas bays.

The Abandoned Crab Trap Removal Program for volunteers takes place in late February or early March and is usually advertised on TPWD’s website. TPWD facilitates roughly 20 sites coastwide, provides disposal facilities, supply tarps, gloves, crab trap hooks and other items to volunteers.

abandoned crab traps at Sabine Lake

To volunteer or for more information contact Art Morris, at the Corpus Christi Field Station (361) 825-3356 or Bobby Miller, at the Dickinson Marine Lab (281) 534-0110 or contact your local TPWD Coastal Fisheries Division office.


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