Northern diamondback terrapins are an important component of the food web. Adult terrapins primarily eat mollusks and crustaceans, including snails, fiddler crabs, and mussels. They also eat blue crabs, green crabs, marine worms, fish, and carrion.
'Ghost' Crab Pot Project
Crabbing has been an annual tradition of residents and visitors to the Barnegat Bay region. Yet when those crab pots are abandoned or adrift, they can become death traps for local wildlife, including at-risk species like diamondback terrapin.
Barnegat Bay's Abandoned Crab Pots
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).
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.
Due to a passing boat, a storm, or simply forgetfulness, abandoned “ghost” crab pots litter Barnegat Bay, continuing to catch crabs and fish. Worst of all is that when animals get stuck in a crab pot, they attract more animals, which in turn also are trapped. Each animal caught acts as bait for new animals to come along.
Some fish species that get caught are blackfish and sea bass. And since the crab pots are just lying at the bottom of the Bay, they do not get emptied out. As a result, any fish that get caught in the crab pots can’t escape and end up starving to death.
Fish are not the only victims of the crab pot death traps – the famous diamondback terrapin, a turtle species that is currently experiencing an alarming population decline rate, also is a common victim of being trapped by abandoned crab pots. One crab trap has even been found to contain 17 dead terrapins.
How CWF is Fighting this Threat to Wildlife in Barnegat Bay
Produced by Citizen Racecar, Conserve Wildlife Foundation’s new video “Fishing for a Cleaner Barnegat Bay” details this complex ecological challenge.
CWF, supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s Marine Debris Removal Program, is tackling the problem directly by finding and removing abandoned crab pots from the water. GPS grid and SONAR imagery from Stockton State University allows recovery teams to find exactly where the crab pots are located. Low-cost SONAR devices can even be used by well-trained fishermen to find their own crab pots merely days after losing them.
Over 1,300 abandoned crab traps were picked up by the program in Barnegat Bay over the past two winters. Ultimately, the metal used in the crab traps is either recycled or used to create energy by corporate partners Covanta and Schnitzer Steel.
“This is a true environmental success story because it addresses a serious ecological problem by creating ecological and economic benefits for the good of the greater Barnegat Bay community,” says CWF Executive Director David Wheeler. “Thanks to local fishermen and volunteer students, removing these death traps has prevented countless at-risk diamondback terrapins and other species from drowning unnecessarily. It also has strengthened public safety by removing navigational hazards from the bay.”
In addition to NOAA’s support for the project, the video was made possible by funding from the New Jersey Corporate Wetlands Restoration Partnership. Other project partners and supporters include the Marine Academy of Technology and Environmental Science – Ocean County Vocational Technical School, Stockton University, Monmouth University, American Littoral Society, Covanta, and ReClam the Bay.
Watch Our Video
Learn more about our 'ghost' crab pot project through our short video released in Summer 2018.
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