AUSTIN — The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is looking for volunteers interested in helping to remove abandoned crab traps — ghostlike killers of marine life — from their haunts along the coast.
Starting Feb. 15 and continuing through Feb. 24, all Texas bays will be closed for crabbing. Any traps left in the water will be assumed to be abandoned and considered “litter” under state law. This allows volunteers to legally remove any crab traps they find.
Since TPWD’s Abandoned Crab Trap Removal Program began in 2002, a total of 29,552 wire mesh traps have been removed and disposed of, mainly on the mid and upper coast. This year, the department hopes to see the count rise above 30,000.
State game wardens remove more than 2,500 illegal traps annually, but many more still lie in the water to tangle fishermen’s lines, trap game fish and crabs through what biologists call “ghost fishing,” snag bay shrimpers’ nets and create an unsightly view of Texas shores.
“It is estimated that one ghost fishing crab trap can trap and kill 26 blue crabs per trap per year,” said Art Morris, TPWD program coordinator. “So, the 29,552 traps we have removed add up to over 480,000 blue crabs alone that have been saved from ghost fishing — if the trap was lost for only one year. Some traps had been derelict since 1998.”
One study based on a biological inventory of 1,703 abandoned crab traps revealed 3,675 organisms in those traps, averaging two per trap. Some had many more.
“Naturally, we saw blue crabs and stone crabs, but we also saw just about every species of important Texan sport fish,” Morris said. “In addition, we found 10 non-game fish species and 11 invertebrate species and even diamond-backed terrapins. Forty-one species in all.”
To facilitate volunteer trap removal efforts this year, TPWD will provide trap drop-off sites at several locations in each major bay system along the coast starting Feb.16, from 8 a.m. to noon, depending on the weather. Additionally, at all sites, dumpsters marked with banners will be available to receive traps for the duration of the closure.
Volunteers can concentrate their efforts on the opening weekend or work at their own pace anytime during the closure, but traps cannot be removed prior to Feb.15 or after Feb. 24. TPWD asks that those who work on their own report where and how many traps you collected so the department can keep track of the total number of traps removed.
“The success of this program is a reflection of the keen sense of stewardship anglers and other outdoor enthusiasts have for our marine resources,” Morris said. “Volunteers have removed more traps from Texas waters than in any other state and the results show. The waning number of traps removed each year indicates that their efforts are having an impact.”
The Coastal Conservation Association Texas, Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries Program, and the Galveston Bay Foundation are providing continued support to the crab trap removal program. Along with additional aid from numerous organizations and companies who are volunteering their services.
To participate, volunteers can arrange to pickup free tarps, gloves, trap hooks and additional information at their local TPWD Coastal Fisheries Field Stations. TPWD requests that volunteers who remove traps record and submit information about the number of traps that they collect as well as any sightings of diamond-back terrapins.
For more information about the Abandoned Crab Trap Removal Program and how you can volunteer, please contact your local TPWD Coastal Fisheries Office or Art Morris at the Corpus Christi Field Station: (361) 825-3356 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.