The majority of lobster trap fishing occurs in the Florida Keys where lobster is important to the cultural history and economy.

Many traps used in this fishery are lost annually due to storms and boat propellers cutting the buoy rope that marks each trap. Wooden slats of lobster traps decay in a few years, while concrete, rope and buoys can remain for decades. Trap debris such as buoys and rope are commonly found on shorelines, while lost traps and rope are one of the most prevalent types of debris underwater in the Florida Keys. 

Prevalence of Lobster Trap Debris

FWC diver surveys estimated that:

Lobster trap debris, caption below
(A) A lost lobster trap. (B) Trap debris washed ashore after a storm.
  • 70 percent of marine debris underwater comprise of traps and trap rope.
  • About 1,000 miles of trap rope.
  • Around 85,000 lost traps are ghost fishing, continuing to catch lobsters and other species.
  • Approximately 1 million non-fishing traps accumulated over many years.

Composition of Trap Debris

All lobster traps have wood panels designed to decay to prevent lost traps from ghost fishing, but traps have other parts that also become debris. FWC divers were able to estimate how much each part of a trap contributes to underwater trap debris:

(A) 33 percent wood trap slates

(B) 26.5 percent concrete ballast

(C) 24 percent rope

(D) 11.8 percent plastic trap throat

(E) 4.5 percent plastic coated wire mesh

(F) 1.22 percent foam buoys

Trap debris composition


Impacts of Lobster Debris

Impact of lost lobster traps, caption below
(A) A dead lobster in a lost lobster trap. (B) A lobster trap on coral. (C) Asea turtle entangled in trap rope. (D) Pillar coral entangled in trap rope.

Lost wooden lobster traps can ghost fish for about one year, while trap rope and wire lobster traps can persist for much longer. Lost traps can damage critical benthic habitats such as coral and seagrass. Traps may rest on these habitats or be moved there by wind. Lost trap rope can entangle and harm corals, sponges, dolphins, manatees and sea turtles. Trap loss is also an economic concern for fishermen. When traps become lost, fishermen lose the cost of the gear and the value of future catch.


How You Can Help

  • Be an alert boater: Avoid trap buoys
  • Report trap molesting: Call FWC Wildlife Alert (888) 404-FWCC (888-404-3922), or email 
  • Volunteer in local marine debris clean-ups
  • Organize a trap debris clean-up with the FWC Derelict Trap Retrieval Program

FWC Facts:
Just like fish, blue crabs use gills to breathe. But unlike fish, blue crabs can survive out of water for over 24 hours, as long as their gills are kept moist.

Learn More at AskFWC