Hundreds of Watermen Collect Ghost Crab Pots

ANNAPOLIS (March 05, 2010) — Maryland watermen have pulled nearly 1,500 abandoned crab pots from the West, Patuxent, and Patapsco Rivers as a part of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Ghost Crab Pot Retrieval program. The Program, which is a partnership between DNR, the Oyster Recovery Partnership, Versar inc. and more than 360 watermen started on February 22, and is a part of Governor Martin O’Malley plan to help mitigate economic losses from the declining blue crab fishery, while also helping to restore the Chesapeake Bay.

Estimates based on side-scan sonar surveys conducted by the Maryland Geological Survey, and the NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office indicate that there are thousands of ghost pots on the bottom of Maryland’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay and tributaries. The problem with these abandoned pots is that they may still be catching and killing crabs and finfish. Additionally, captured fish and crabs essentially become bait for other predators that will enter and also become trapped. Some studies indicate that the average crab pot will last about two years in saltwater.

Most ghost pots are lost due to storms or when buoy lines are cut by passing powerboat propellers. Sonar studies have discovered the highest concentration of ghost pots in high recreational traffic areas. A 1990 survey of commercial crabbers indicated that 10- to 30-percent of their pots were lost each year. It’s unlikely that they have simply been abandoned by watermen since the pots are valuable, costing $20 to $30 each.

“The watermen are earning this money, it’s a job and a half,” said Waterman Crew Chief JR Gross.

In 2008, Governor Martin O’Malley asked the U.S. Department of Commerce to declare the Chesapeake Bay crab fishery a federal disaster due to the historic low blue crab population. Senators Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin and the Congressional Delegation secured $15 million in crab disaster funds for Maryland to help stem the collapse of the crab population and to assist the commercial fishing industry. Also in 2008, Governor O’Malley and Former Virginia Governor Tim Kaine enacted legislation to help revitalize the blue crab population.

As a result, the ghost pot retrieval program is high on the list of crab disaster projects, and it is designed to employ commercial watermen to handle the work. Approximately 450 watermen have been offered contracts for up to $400 per day plus an additional $150 for a helper to recover and dispose of ghost pots from selected sights. The initial working areas will be the Patuxent, West and Rhode Rivers where concentrations of ghost pots were found.

Source: Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR)

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