Michael M. Liffmann, Morgan, Johnny W.
An effort to remove abandoned crab traps from the state’s waters already is seeing success – in its first outing.
The volunteer-based program started last weekend (Feb. 28) in one Lafourche Parish location, and more than 3,000 abandoned traps were removed.
The program was approved by the Louisiana Legislature last year and is designed to remove as many of the derelict traps from the waters as possible. It is being spearheaded by LSU AgCenter agents along with personnel from the La. Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
LSU AgCenter fisheries agent David Bourgeois said the volunteer-based program actually was started by the Crab Task Force – an industry group that was the guiding force behind this effort.
"The task force wanted to do something about all of these derelict traps, so they went to the Legislature to get an act to close the season for two weeks," Bourgeois said.
Bourgeois said the crab fishermen were informed about two months ago that the Upper Terrebonne Bay Estuary would be closed for 16 days from the morning of Feb. 28 through the morning of March 14, so the abandoned traps could be removed.
Points where traps are being collected include Bayou Pointe Aux Chenes, Cozy Campers Campground on Robinson Canal, Seabreeze Marina on Bayou Terrebonne and Josh’s Marina on the canal leading to Catfish Lake. Volunteers who are working to collect the traps from the estuary can bring them to those locations for disposal.
Bourgeois explained the collection sites will be open every day during the two-week collection period, but he said the heaviest activity is expected on the weekends – particularly Saturdays.
"We have limited personnel at the sites during the week, so we’re concentrating more on the weekends," he said.
Mike Liffmann, the project leader for the LSU AgCenter’s Sea Grant Extension Project, who also was helping to get the traps out of the water this past weekend, said there are several reasons why it’s important to remove the traps.
"First, they’re harmful, because they continue to trap fish, and also recreational groups are always upset, because they get their propellers caught in the floats and the traps," Liffman explained.
Liffman said the LSU AgCenter has worked to get the coastal audience including the crab industry, the recreational industry and the environmental community involved in the project. The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is leading the effort and also encouraging public involvement.
"The major problem of these abandoned or ‘ghost traps,’ as they are called, is that they continue to catch crabs and fish, which can’t get out and eventually are cannibalized or they die," Liffman said, adding "The traps aren’t normally abandoned intentionally. Storms come up and situations happen where they break loose, so over the years literally thousands have accumulated out there in our waters."
The LSU AgCenter faculty member explained that under normal conditions, the trap itself sits on the bottom, and the buoy which is attached by a rope floats on top of the water to mark the spot of the trap for the fishermen.
Bourgeois said after this collection is complete the next area to undergo a derelict trap cleanup will be the Vermillion Bay area.
"That area will close in late April or May, two weeks before shrimp season opens," he said, adding, however, that the Vermilion Bay area is not expected to have as many derelict traps, because it’s mostly open bay and because the shrimp fishermen normally pull most of these traps up. That means the only traps expected to be found there are the ones that were lost since the last shrimp season, Bourgeois said.
Harriet Perry, the director for fisheries research and development at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory at the University of Southern Mississippi, said the pilot crab trap removal program was in Mississippi about four years ago.
She said the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission’s Blue Crab Subcommittee asked representatives from each of the Gulf states to survey their areas and to try to come up with some idea of the number of abandoned traps that were in state waters.
"We all went back to our respective states and we essentially on winter low tides went and surveyed and came up with some estimates of the number of derelict and abandoned traps," Perry said. "We were astounded. I mean we were really, really surprised."
Perry said even Mississippi and Alabama with their relatively short coastlines had thousands of abandoned traps.
She also said the problem here in Louisiana seems almost insurmountable. "Texas had a huge program. In addition, Mississippi and Alabama have had programs for the past three years, but this is the first year for Louisiana."
In addition, Florida officials also were interested in being involved in the trap removal program, because they don’t just have blue crab traps – they also have stone crab traps, lobster traps and fish traps.
According to information from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, commercial blue crab fishing in Louisiana accounts for more than 70 percent of the total Gulf of Mexico landings and has led the United States annual crab landings six times.
Vince Guillory, biology supervisor with the department, said the total number of traps in Louisiana’s commercial trap fishery is unknown, but the estimated number of traps would be about 600,000.
Department figures show that in recent years, hard crab commercial landings have averaged 45 million pounds, which is worth approximately $30 million dockside.
Guillory said if the trap removal is successful over the next two weeks, officials will be able to concentrate on other areas of the coast next year.
"This is actually a test area that we’ll cover this year, approximately 158,000 acres," Guillory said. "If we had tried to do the whole state, it would have been overwhelming."
The workers are expected to be back this Saturday (March 6) to continue the removal of traps, and if the weather is unsuitable this weekend, they will come on March 13 as the final day before the crabbing season reopens in the area.
David Bourgeois at (985) 632-6852 or email@example.com
Mike Liffmann at (225) 578-2266 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Johnny Morgan at (504) 838-1170 or email@example.com