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DNREC will partner with commercial crabbers to remove ghost pots

DOVER – DNREC’s Delaware Coastal Programs has been awarded $90,000 in funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Marine Debris Program for a project that will remove thousands of derelict or “ghost pots” and other debris from the bottom of heavily-fished areas of the Delaware Bay.

“We appreciate the partnership with NOAA and participating watermen to help reduce the adverse impacts of marine debris – which will benefit the ecological restoration of the Bay, watermen and the state’s commercial crabbing industry,” said DNREC Secretary David Small. “Recovering derelict crab pots and other debris from the Delaware Bay will reduce mortality of crabs, fish and other marine species inadvertently trapped in derelict pots. We hope to learn from this experience and apply that knowledge to future management efforts.”

The study includes an assessment that will help identify locations and the abundance of “ghost pots,” and yield important scientific data on their impacts to benthic habitat and marine animals that play an intrinsic role in the ecology of the Bay. Benthic habitat, the ecological region that includes the Bay’s sediment surface and some sub-surface layers, provides spawning and nursery grounds, refuge and foraging areas for blue crab and other commercially-important marine species. Restoring benthic habitat can increase populations of blue crabs, financially benefiting watermen through increased harvests and the potential reuse of derelict crab pots removed from the Bay.

“This project will also advance our understanding of how marine debris impacts the ecology of the Delaware Bay,” said Delaware Coastal Programs Acting Administrator Dr. Robert Scarborough. “Delaware Coastal Programs greatly appreciates this NOAA grant that will not only be used to remove ‘ghost pots,’ but will allow us to gather important scientific data that will guide our efforts to reduce the environmental impacts of marine debris and help us better protect resources in the Delaware Bay.”

The identification and removal of debris will be undertaken during the commercial crabbing off-season from December through February and will rely on partnerships with commercial crabbers. Watermen will be provided with equipment, funded through the grant, to identify and remove pots.

The project represents the first large-scale marine debris removal effort conducted in Delaware waters of the Delaware Bay. This project will run in tandem with a similar crab pot removal project being conducted by the New Jersey Audubon in the New Jersey waters of the Bay, also funded through NOAA’s Marine Debris Program.

“Derelict crab pots can create navigational hazards, damage habitats and capture marine species, including harvestable crabs, resulting in lost catch opportunities and financial losses for watermen,” said Nancy Wallace, director of the NOAA Marine Debris Program. “We are proud to support Delaware Coastal Programs and their partners to reduce the adverse environmental and economic impacts of derelict pots in the Delaware Bay.”

NOAA’s Marine Debris Program has funded similar projects in neighboring states, including Maryland, New Jersey and Virginia.

For more information contact Nicole Rodi, Delaware Coastal Programs at 302-739-9283.