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An Overview of Trap Loss in Florida’s Spiny Lobster Trap Fishery

examples of lost lobster traps
(A) A lost trap with the buoy cut off. (B) Trap debris washed ashore after a storm. (C) A lost lobster trap. (D) Hurricane Georges impacting the Florida Keys in 1998 (Photo credit: NOAA/National Climate Data Center).

Although trap loss is unintended, it negatively affects both fishermen and the environment. Trap loss causes lost income, marine debris and environmental harm. The high number of traps in the fishery amplifies trap loss.

Causes of Trap Loss

Lobster traps may become lost for a variety of reasons, such as:

  • Boat propeller cutoffs
  • Theft/vandalism
  • Storms/hurricanes
  • Gear degradation

Some traps are also intentionally abandoned or discarded.

Estimates of Trap Loss

Between the 1997 and 2005 fishing seasons, commercial lobster trap fishermen reported their trap loss using mail surveys.

Fisherman reported:

  • Approximately 3-5 percent of traps are lost each month of the fishing season without hurricanes
  • 18 percent of overall traps are lost in seasons without hurricanes
  • 19-65 percent of overall traps are lost in seasons with tropical storms and/or hurricanes

In 2007, FWC diver surveys throughout the Florida Keys indicated (Uhrin et al. 2014):

  • About 85,000 lost traps were ghost fishing, meaning they were intact and continuing to catch lobster
  • Approximately 1 million non-fishing traps accumulated over many years
    • Lost traps accumulated in:
      • Coral habitat, likely due to high winds moving traps
      • Nearshore waters where heavy boat traffic occurs

Impacts of Lost Lobster Traps

  • Ghost fishing (Butler et al. 2015)
    • Ghost fishing kills lobster and some fish
    • Wood traps can ghost fish for about 1 year while wire traps ghost fish for about 2 years
  • Habitat damage
    • Lost traps can smother seagrass (Uhrin et al. 2005)
    • Lost traps and trap debris can be moved by high winds, damaging many seafloor inhabitants such as corals, sponges and sea fans (Lewis et al. 2009)
    • Trap rope can entangle protected species such as coral, dolphins, manatees and sea turtles (Adimey et al. 2014)


Adimey, N.M., Hudak, C.A., Powell, J.R., Bassos-Hull, K., Foley, A., Farmer, N.A., White, L., and K. Minch. 2014. Fishery gear interactions from stranded bottlenose dolphins, Florida manatees and sea turtles in Florida, USA. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 81(1):103-115. Order publication

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

Uhrin, A.V., Fonseca, M.S., and G.P. DiDomenico. 2005. Effects of spiny lobster traps on seagrass beds: damage assessment and evaluation of recovery. American Fisheries Society Symposium, 41: 579-588. 

Uhrin, A., Matthews, T., and C. Lewis. 2014. Lobster trap debris in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary: distribution, abundance, density, and patterns of accumulation. Marine and Coastal Fisheries: Dynamics, Management, and Ecosystem Science, 6: 20-32. Order publication