Lobster fisherman in the Florida Keys primarily use wooden slat lobster traps. Damage to habitat can occur when traps are used in coral habitat or sit too long in seagrass habitat. Traps also damage habitat when they are lost in seagrass and when storms move them into coral.

Lobster Fishing Areas

Examples of habitat damage from lobster traps, caption below

(A) A swatch of seafloor scarred by trap movement. (B) and (C) Lobster trap on coral. (D) Lobster trap scar on seagrass habitat.

About half of the approximately 480,000 lobster traps are used in Florida Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, which is primarily made up of seagrass and sand. In the Atlantic, traps are also placed around coral reefs and hardbottom habitats, which include sponges, sea fans and corals.

Of the 480,000 traps, our data indicate:

  • 39 percent are fished on seagrass
  • 32 percent are fished on sand
  • 14 percent are fished on hardbottom
  • 13 percent are fished on algae
  • 2 percent are fished on coral

Most traps are fished (pulled) every 1-4 weeks during the fishing season.

Impacts to Corals and Hardbottom Habitats

  • Each time a trap in coral habitat is pulled, it affects an area about the size of a human hand (198.5 cm2).
  • Traps are pulled about 12 times each fishing season.
  • Most damage to corals occurs when traps move during storms.
  • Movement of traps can cause 20 percent loss of living hard coral, soft corals and sponges (Lewis et al. 2009).
  • An average of 18 storms move traps each fishing season.
  • Traps usually move about ten feet on the reef during storms, but move much further during hurricanes.

Impacts to Seagrass Habitats

  • Traps are left for 1-4 weeks between fishing trips.
  • Traps can cause permanent loss of manatee grass (Syringodium filiforme) when traps are left in place for long periods of time (more than 6 weeks) (Uhrin et al. 2005).
  • Lost traps represent the greatest damage resulting from the lobster fishery, as these traps are left sitting on the seagrass indefinitely.


References

Lewis CF, Slade SL, Matthews TR. 2009. Lobster trap impact on coral reefs: effects of wind- driven trap movement. New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research, 43: 271- 282. Order publication

Uhrin AV, Fonseca MS, DiDomenico GP. 2005. Effect of Caribbean spiny lobster traps on seagrass beds of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary: Damage Assessment and evaluation of recovery. American Fisheries Society Symposium, 41: 579-588.



FWC Facts:
Seagrasses help remove harmful nutrient and sediment pollution from coastal waters.

Learn More at AskFWC