Ghost fishing is the term used for fishing gear that catches and kills animals after it is lost.

Examples of lost traps, caption below 
(A) Lobster traps ready for deployment at the start of fishing season. (B) Examples of wood and wire lobster traps. (C) Fish confined in a lost wire trap. (D) Dead lobster in a lost trap.

In Florida, lobster traps are prone to loss from hurricanes and boat propellers cutting the buoyed ropes that mark each trap. Lost traps are particularly good at catching lobsters because the traps mimic shelters and lobsters in the traps attract more lobsters.

Lobster Traps

All lobster traps are required to have a degradable wood panel that will decay and stop the trap from ghost fishing.

  • 90 percent of traps are made of all wood
  • 8 percent are made of a combination of wood and wire mesh
  • 1 percent are composed of mostly wire mesh
  • 1 percent are plastic

However, the wood used in most traps is pressure-treated, and most traps are used 3-4 fishing seasons.

Trap Decay

Lost lobster traps ghost fish until they decay or break down enough that lobsters can escape (Butler & Matthews, 2015).

  • A new trap, if lost, ghost fishes for about 16 months.
  • Wire traps ghost fish for more than two years.

Bycatch

Lobster traps also catch some fish. For wood traps, most of these fish escape. Wire lobster traps catch 10 times more fish than wood traps.

Lobster Mortality

Trap loss is an economic concern for fishermen. When traps become lost, fishermen lose not only the cost of the trap, but also lose lobster that die in ghost traps. Lobster mortality caused by ghost fishing also impacts the ecological role that lobsters play in the environment.

  • Ghost traps killed on average 3-7 lobsters each year, depending on the trap's location.
  • An estimated 643,000 lobsters die in ghost traps each year.

Further Information

Trap Retrieval Program

Trap Retrieval Rules

 

References

Butler, C.B., and Matthews, T.R. 2015. Effects of ghost fishing lobster traps in the Florida Keys. ICES Journal of Marine Science



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