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Lobster Trap Debris in the Florida Keys

examples of lobster trap debris
(A) A lost lobster trap. (B) Trap debris washed ashore after a storm.

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:

  • 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.
trap debris composition

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

examples of impacts of lost lobster traps
(A) A dead lobster in a lost lobster trap. (B) A lobster trap on coral. (C) A sea turtle entangled in trap rope. (D) Pillar coral entangled in trap rope.

Impacts of Lobster Debris

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