Crab Trap Cleanup Story

-Submitted by Dave Markett of the Florida Airboat Association


Abandoned, damaged or otherwise derelict blue crab traps are a fairly common occurrence throughout the estuaries and shallow water bays of Florida. For any number of common causes, blue crab traps become derelict by damage or by abandonment. Their plastic-coated, welded-wire construction assures a long underwater existence and every day they are not attended, they continue to trap and kill a wide variety of mostly juvenile sea creatures.


Peter Clark is founder and Executive Director of Tampa Bay Watch (TBW), an award-winning organization most famous for their habitat improvement projects throughout Florida's largest estuary. He determined that abandoned blue crab traps represented a threat to many species of estuarine life throughout Tampa Bay and needed to be collected and removed.


Clark initially tried to gather these traps with conventional boats and immediately found out that waters shallow enough to reveal an unmarked or abandoned trap was also shallow enough to prevent access from a typical shallow-draft vessel utilizing an underwater propeller. In some cases, getting an outboard boat to an abandoned trap resulted in a propeller scar to sensitive underwater seagrass colonies.


Clark then looked to airboats as the answer to the dilemma of locating and retrieving a significant number of crab traps from specific target areas of Tampa Bay. Clark was aware of Florida Airboat Association through a long-term cooperative friendship with several early FAA members. A request for volunteers was launched and the joint FAA/TBW Derelict Crabtrap Removal Project became a reality. Initial efforts targeted the area known as Upper Tampa Bay--that part of the bay located north of Hwy. 60 between Tampa and Clearwater. Other organized projects have included Alafia River and Matlacha in Charlotte Harbor.


TBW organized and coordinated volunteer labor and FAA organized and provided volunteer airboat work platforms. It quickly became an impressive and proven partnership. Many of the first volunteers are still active. Among them are Capt. Dale Fields (SA: Capt Catfish), Harry Young (SA: HarryTFirefighter), Vernon Wynn (SA:WynnBoat) and myself. Both organizations see this partnership as a win-win deal for Florida and believe many coastal areas could greatly benefit from similar efforts.



Saturday, January 24, 2009 was the day 11 volunteers from FAA towed their personal airboats from throughout Florida to meet at the Cockroach Bay Rd. public launch site. There they were met by TBW staff members and volunteers from the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, Coastal Conservation Association, FFWCC, Florida Wildlife Research Institute, and NFWS. Each of the airboats was provided a two-person labor team, tarps to minimize contact between trap and boat, and a variety of tools designed to aid in the capture and recovery efforts. Airboats were then assigned specific grid coordinates of the backwater areas running from Cockroach Bay to the Little Manatee River.

TBW Derelict Crab Trap Removal Project coordinator Sera Herndon briefed recovery teams on specifics of exactly what constitutes abandoned or derelict trap. To meet the strict determining criteria, it had to not have six intact sides, an affixed trap owner identification tag and a license numbered float and line. Only those traps which met the standards could be collected, and every trap collection site had to be identified by GPS coordinates.


Teams departed the launch site before 9 am and had a three-hour window to complete their tasks. TBW and TA Mahoney & Co. of Tampa provided shallow draft work skiffs to retrieve gathered traps from the airboats working the shoreline. Most of the abandoned or derelict traps could be seen easily and they were soon gathered. Airboats could be seen moving quickly between the mangrove bay edge and the transport skiffs anchored farther offshore in deeper waters. Once the obvious were retrieved, it became a task of working around the islands and inlets in an effort to locate hidden holes and sloughs that held enough water to hide more abandoned traps. It was in these holes that obvious evidence of the long-term killing capacity of these traps became evident.


Every trap in water deep enough to cover the top held trapped fish and small stone crabs. Dozens of juvenile fish were found alive and dead--sheepshead, dogfish and flounder were in most traps. No blue crabs were encountered and many of the collected traps showed clear evidence of collision with boat propellers. The final count of collected traps was just under 100, just about the same number collected last year with similar effort in Upper Tampa Bay and the Alafia River.


TBW and FAA expect to continue their work in the future with a partnership that matches the unique ability of airboat to skim areas too shallow for any other vessel with a group of volunteers willing to get muddy to make Tampa Bay a better place.





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