A study published earlier this year by a state biologist says the durability of lobster traps contributes to a high number of unintended sea life deaths each year.
Casey Butler’s study, “Effects of Ghost Fishing Lobsters in the Florida Keys,” was published Jan. 7 in the ICES Journal of Marine Service.
“We’ve found that the traps could be degrading faster,” said Butler, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologist.Butler said the study found that wood traps are the least deadly.
For the study, researchers distributed 120 traps of varying types — wood, wire and hybrids — near Marathon in Florida Bay, nearshore Atlantic Ocean waters and offshore. Divers visited the traps weekly for a year to document their findings. After the initial year, divers visited the traps monthly for the following two years.
“The longer the trap is out there working and missing, the more sea life is harmed,” Butler said. In addition to lobsters being trapped, other fish and invertebrates end up inside the traps.
The study found white grunts, yellowtail snapper and scrawled cowfish among some of the victims. The highest numbers of fish and lobsters caught were in the nearshore ocean traps.
Butler said she recommends fishermen use less pressure treatment on part of the trap in order to limit its lifespan.
A similar study released last fall by National Oceanic Atmospheric Association echoes the findings of Butler’s research.
Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association President Bill Kelly said last week that the Florida Keys are one of the last major fisheries primarily using wooden traps.
Spiny lobster and stone crab trap fishing generate hundreds of millions a year to the Florida Keys economy, Kelly said.
“The traps we use degrade in a year,” he told the Free Press.
Butler said more could be done by commercial fishermen to help prevent the unintended loss of sea life.
“The future of the lobster population and fishery in the Florida Keys depends on the success of [current rules], but new avenues for management include identifying and encouraging the use of materials that degrade even more quickly, reducing buoy cutoffs that result in so many lost traps and re-evaluating of the number of traps permitted,” Butler said.
Kelly added that commercial fishermen participate in a state program that helps fund projects to reduce the amount of ghost fishing.
“We are not ignoring the situation,” he said.