Conserve Wildlife Blog

Archive for the ‘Marine’ Category

Ghost Fishing

Tuesday, February 6th, 2018

How CWF Is Fighting This Threat to Wildlife in Barnegat Bay

by Emily Heiser, Wildlife Biologist


For many coastal communities in New Jersey, like the Barnegat Bay region, winter is a time for rejuvenation and the preparation of our resources for a busy summer season.  It only makes sense that we also start to prepare the coast’s most precious resource – the bay.  


Barnegat Bay is approximately 42 miles of brackish marsh and bay bordering Ocean County.  The bay and surrounding marshlands are rich in vital resources that directly and indirectly support over 60,000 jobs and have an economic value of $2 to $4 billion dollars annually (Barnegat Bay Partnership Economic Report 2012).   


Pots are often heavily encrusted with organisms and can contain several different species of bycatch. @ John Wenk

Part of that economic value is attributed to the tremendous blue claw crab fishery in the bay.  The New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife estimates that commercial and recreational crabbers harvest around 6 million crabs per year from New Jersey waters.  Barnegat Bay, along with Little Egg Harbor and the Maurice River estuary comprise approximately 65-86% of the recreational harvest that occurs annually.  Recreational crabbers use a variety of methods, but typically rely on baited pots or hand lines for crabbing.  Regulations exist for the use of pots, but their unintentional loss has created an economic and environmental problem for all portions of Barnegat Bay.


CWF, along with our partners, has been diligently organizing and executing what is essentially a cleanup of these pots within Barnegat Bay.  In 2015 and 2017, CWF was granted a NOAA Marine Debris Removal Program grant to support the removal of derelict crab pots, also know as ghost pots, from Barnegat Bay.  Over the course of the last three years, we have removed over 1,300 crab pots that have become a death trap for a variety of marine organisms, including diamondback terrapins and otherwise fishable blue crabs.  


Students from the Marine Academy of Technology and Environmental Science assist in assessing pots after they’ve been pulled from the bay. @John Wenk

All of the fieldwork on this project occurs during the chilling winter months when only the hardiest of fishermen can be found on the water.   The blue crab season is open in most parts of the state from March 15th – November 30th leaving the coldest months to head out and collect pots that are not supposed to be actively fishing.  Several partners have made this project a possibility – the Marine Academy of Technology and Environmental Science, Stockton University, Monmouth University, ReClam the Bay, American Littoral Society, and through contracts with local fishermen.  


Using side-scan sonar units, crews head out in early December to start looking for ghost pots.  Once a sufficient number of pots have been marked, waypoints are transferred over to retrieval crews.  Retrieving the pots sounds easy in theory, but can be time-consuming and success is dependent on many compounding factors such as substrate, weather, and tidal conditions.  Upon relocation of a surveyed pot, the captain must line the boat up to the best of their ability and with as much accuracy as they can, instructs the crew where to throw the grapple line.  Often you hear them call out, “Five feet – left center” and amazingly, the crew throws the grapple and hooks into a pot!  Depending on the substrate and how long the pot has been on the bay floor, it can be very difficult and dangerous to leverage out.  With the use of just the right amount of engine power, sunken pots can be delicately coaxed out of the water and lifted onto the boat by crews.  Once a pot is on the boat, a rapid assessment is done to look for unintended bycatch, pot design, and encrusting organisms.  Some of the various bycatch that has been found in pots include several species of crabs, lobster, flounder, tautog, and sadly, several diamondback terrapins.  One pot contained the remains of more than 17 diamondback terrapins.  


Ghost pots are disposed of by NFWF and Covanta’s Fishing for Energy Program where they will be recycled and turned into energy. @John Wenk

After a day of retrievals, the crew heads back to the marina where pots are placed in a disposal bin.  The bins are provided to the project through the successful Fishing for Energy Program run by National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Covanta Energy, and Schnitzer Steel.  Gear collected from our port is stripped for recyclable materials at Schnitzer Steel and then non-recyclable material is turned into energy at Covanta’s facility in Rahway, New Jersey.  The holistic nature of this project breathes life into the term, “reduce, reuse, recycle”.


Barnegat Bay’s ghost pots exemplify an overarching issue of our environment, human-wildlife conflicts.  The Bay’s vital resources drive the economy and addressing these issues make us better stewards of the Bay and its resources.

Photo from the Field

Thursday, October 5th, 2017
The Lucky 8: Tiny terrapin hatchlings rescued!

by Ben Wurst, Habitat Program Manager

A clutch of eight tiny terrapin hatchlings found beneath one of our X-ING signs. photo by Ben Wurst

While removing our seasonal (better late than never!) terrapin X-ING signs on Great Bay Blvd. in Little Egg Harbor yesterday, we stumbled upon some tiny northern diamondback terrapin hatchlings. These little guys were hiding or trapped under a very large (and heavy) X-ING sign made from old pallets that someone knocked over (I say guys because they hatched later in the season and it was a very cool August, but some could be girls). At first I didn’t see anything, but upon closer inspection I saw several hatchlings in the vegetation. One, two, three, four, five, six. Then I dug a little with my hand and found two more. The sign had been atop a nest. (more…)

Help Ensure Ospreys Have a Future in New Jersey

Tuesday, September 26th, 2017

ACTION ALERT: Support ecological management of the most valuable public resource for our coastal ecosystem and economy

by Ben Wurst, Habitat Program Manager

Menhaden is a common food source for ospreys during their nesting season in New Jersey. Photo by Northside Jim.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is accepting public comment on the establishment of ecological management of Atlantic menhaden (Brevoortia tyrannus), which is a keystone species. Basically, a keystone species is one that plays a large role in the ecosystem where it lives. If a keystone species is lost then the ecosystem would dramatically change or cease to function, causing widespread effects to other species that benefit. In New Jersey, ospreys have largely benefited from a healthy menhaden population as we’ve had relatively high reproductive rates (more than double what’s needed to sustain population) over the past decade. From 2006 to 2016, the population has grown by 30% and above the pre-DDT, historic milestone of over 500 nesting pairs. Around 82% of the state population of ospreys nests along the Atlantic Coast and we observe menhaden at a huge number of nests during our mid-summer surveys. If menhaden numbers drop, then we will likely see osprey numbers follow suite, as reproductive rates will decline, as they are in the Chesapeake Bay.


NJTV: Osprey population continues to rebound in NJ

Tuesday, April 18th, 2017

NJTV News recently covered the continuing recovery of ospreys in the Garden State by visiting the nesting pair at Long Beach Island Foundation for the Arts & Sciences. CWF’s Ben Wurst and David Wheeler joined NJTV for this inspiring video and accompanying story.


Reef dedication, seining to help celebrate Veterans Day on Delaware Bay

Thursday, October 20th, 2016

Oyster reef to be dedicated to New Jersey Veterans at second annual event

By Emily Hofmann, Project Coordinator


A seine net about 75 feet long is dredged in the bay and brought up on the beach to collect the species for study. Photo courtesy of Middle Township Gazette.

You and your family are “whelk-come” to join American Littoral Society and Conserve Wildlife Foundation and for our 2nd Annual Veterans Day on the Bay on Saturday, November 12 from 11:00 AM -2:00 PM at Moores Beach on the Delaware Bayshore! In April, we held our 2nd Annual Shell-A-Bration where proud volunteers braved the elements and helped build an oyster reef at Moores Beach.


The 1st Annual Veterans Day on the Bay was held on November 11, 2015 at South Reeds Beach. The oyster reef was dedicated to all veterans and highlighted veteran involvement in the effort to restore New Jersey’s Delaware Bayshore. Event attendees honored their own military veterans by inscribing that special person’s name on a shell and placing that shell on “Veterans Reef.”


This year we’d like to continue to show our appreciation and mark the progress we’ve made by dedicating another reef to a specific military branch.


Please join us for the 2nd Annual Veterans Day on the Bay, which will feature:

  • Raw oysters and fare from Spanky’s BBQ
  • Beach Clean-up
  • Seining and marine wildlife study
  • Arts and crafts for children

Photo courtesy of David Benson.

Help us study the wildlife living in this new reef with hands-on, interactive marine science activities like seining and species identification!


The highlight of the event will be the dedication of Moores Beach oyster reef in honor of our military veterans. Attendees are invited to honor their own military veterans by inscribing that special person’s name on a shell and placing that shell on the reef.


This family fun day and volunteer event will be held from 11:00 AM – 2:00 PM; with the reef dedication ceremony taking place at 12:30 PM. Veterans Day on the Bay is rain or shine. The celebration will be a picnic-style event, so please bring blankets and chairs.


Join us at Moores Beach, at the end of Moores Beach Road (which intersects with NJ Route 47 near Delmont United Methodist Church) Maurice River, New Jersey, 08314.


RSVP appreciated to Quinn Whitesall, or Emily Hofmann, by November 7.




Emily Hofmann is a Project Coordinator with Conserve Wildlife Foundation.


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