Why Abandoned Crab Pots Are an Issue for Delaware's Inland Bays

Delaware Sea Grant and University of Delaware researchers find that ‘ghost’ crab pots are a nuisance to boats and wildlife in a recent study.

Researchers check scans for ghost crab pots in the inland bays./Photo courtesy of the University of Delaware

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If you’ve ever felt like you’ve encountered an excessive number of abandoned, or “ghost,” crab pots in Delaware’s inland bays while boating or fishing, your suspicions have now been confirmed.

A preliminary study conducted back in February by Art Trembanis from the University of Delaware, and Kate Fleming from Delaware Sea Grant, used side-scan sonar technology to determine the prevalence of abandoned blue crab pots in Love Creek, Herring/Guinea Creek and Bay Cove.

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The researchers found around 160 lost crab pots in the overall 100-acre area, amounting to about 1.6 abandoned pots per acre. In the Bay Cove area near Dewey Beach, they found an even higher density of 3.5 pots per acre.

“What this does is identifies and confirms that derelict crab pots are present in the inland bays and is a launching point to do more work to further characterize the problem,” says Fleming.

That work would include trying to characterize the kinds of species captured in the pots, as well as determine how many new crab pots are introduced and subsequently abandoned each blue crab season.

Ghost crab pots are more than just a nuisance for boaters. When abandoned, they can attract other blue crabs—cannibalistic creatures—which in turn attract other organisms that become trapped and then die.

Fleming advises crabbers in the inland bays to use bycatch reduction devices and cull rings, which help reduce unnecessary coastal wildlife death. She also warns crabbers not to place pots in high traffic launch areas and navigation channels.

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Boaters in the Delaware inland bays should be aware of the presence of crab pots and be sure to give crab pot floats a wide berth to avoid the crab pot line. The lines are difficult to see from afar, so boaters must take care to not only avoid the pots themselves, but the possible line surrounding it.

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