Research ProjectImpacts of Derelict Fishing Gear

Derelict blue crab trap

Illustration of an abandoned crab pot.

Project Goal

The goal of this project is to understand and reduce the negative impacts of derelict fishing gear in the Maryland portion of the Chesapeake Bay.


Understanding the Derelict Fishing Gear Situation in Maryland's Chesapeake Bay

Losing gear is an unavoidable part of being a commercial fisherman. In today's modern world, some gear is made out of more robust and durable materials, allowing the gear to persist longer in the environment after it has been lost beneath the waves.  It is important, then, that we understand the impacts of these derelict fishing gears.  One documented impact of derelict fishing gear in fisheries around the world is the continued catching of animals in the gear, a phenomenon known as ghost fishing.  Often, the animals trapped in lost gear starve to death.

SERC is currently looking into the impacts of lost and derelict blue crab pots in the Maryland portion of the Chesapeake Bay.  The project focuses on gathering information from watermen, peer-reviewed journals, and agency reports in order to understand the issue better and to direct our future efforts.  We are particularly interested in technologies and methods to address impacts of derelict pots, such as reducing pot loss, increasing pot recovery, and disarming pots after loss.  

Group photo of MD Blue Crab Ghost Pot Workshop

Participants of the Maryland Blue Crab Ghost Pot Workshop.

An important aspect of this project is engaging watermen and involving them in discussions about the pot loss issue and discussions about which directions to go next.  In November, SERC held a Maryland Blue Crab Ghost Pot Workshop in which watermen from all over the state came to discuss with us their experiences with blue crab pot loss and recovery and to help us make decisions about which directions the project should move next.  It was agreed by all present that prevention of pot loss is the best solution and many good ideas for public education and outreach were discussed.  We also were able to pinpoint some research needs to help better understand exactly how blue crab pots are affecting or not affecting the Bay ecosystem.  The waterman's input was very valuable in helping us understand this issue better.

Public Education and Outreach

Ghost Pot Workshop Summary Report

Waterman's Gazette: Maryland Watermen Help SERC Scientists Understand Crab Pot Loss Issue

Want to  learn more about ghost pots and how to prevent them from harming marine life? Check out these pdfs from our 2015 educational display.

Ghost Pots Educational Display
Ghost Busting Educational Display

To further our public education and outreach, SERC had a booth at the 2015 Commercial Fishermen's & Aquaculture Trade Exposition at Ocean City, MD -- put on by the Maryland Watermen's Association.  While we have many projects, we focused on talking to passersby about our blue crab tagging program and the ghost pots:

2015 Waterman's Expo with SERC ghost pot display
Research technician, Laura Patrick, manning the SERC booth at the 2015 Trade Expo


As part of this project, we have compiled a list (in Excel database form) of over 200 pieces of literature and informational material related to ghost pots; the list includes peer-reviewed articles, published and unpublished reports, master's theses, guidelines, presentations, online articles, book chapters, scientific posters, technical memorandums, informational flyers, conference proceedings, and regulations.  The database does not include copies of these materials.  The main focus of this information review is ghost fishing by traps/pots with a focus on methods, techniques, and especially technologies that have been tested and used to aid in the reduction of ghost fishing by ghost traps/pots.  The database is available below for you to download if you'd like:

Excel file  of ghost fishing article database

Additionally, we have compiled all available information we could find pertaining to strategies that have been tested for reducing ghost fishing by traps/pots.  To view this database of information, click below:

Excel file of ghost fishing reduction strategies database

If you see any errors in either of the databases, or if you feel there is information we should add, please let us know!