Outdoor Corner: Removing killing machines

Lyle Johnson

Crabbing! It’s not only one of my favorite outdoor pastimes, it’s certainly my favorite seafood to consume as well. There’s nothing quite as appealing as that sweet meat, seasoned and boiled to perfection, passing slowly across one’s taste buds before heading to the stomach.

That’s what we’re trying to save by removing the derelict traps. A mess of crabs caught along the road in Reggio.

My first memories crabbing are as a kid in Blind River using chicken necks on string that were tossed off of a pier or the side of the boat. One trip ended up with 22 dozen crabs in our ice chest. It was one of my greatest memories ever as a kid. I’m 68 years old, and still like to catch them that way.

Lots of folks enjoy and take part in catching crabs in a few ways. Lines, nets, and even a few of them use a hand full of traps to fill their need for a crab boil.

By and large, the great majority of crabs are caught by commercial crabbers using traps. The popularity of crab meat has caused a substantial rise in the demand, which means a substantial rise in price. That in turn causes a rise in the number of commercial licenses sold, which means quite a substantial rise in the number of crab traps in the water to catch them.

The number of abandoned crab traps in the water creates a big problem in the fact that they never quit catching crabs even though they never get baited by a crabber.

A trap is set with bait and left out in the water to collect the intended target. The trap is lost or abandoned and left in the water for a long period of time. Fish, crabs and other marine life are attracted to the bait and are captured by the trap.

The fish trapped in the abandoned trap dies, creating fresh new bait in the trap. New marine life is attracted to the new bait, thus creating a new group of trapped marine life. New marine life dies, creating more fresh bait and perpetuating the cycle.

These traps don’t just kill marine life the first time you put them out with bait. They cause unintended deaths of other fish and marine life, and the fresh bait continues the cycle of killing marine life. It’s called “ghost” fishing.

They are called derelict traps that have been lost or abandoned due to many reasons. They can be separated from their buoys by tides, currents, storms or passing boats, or caught in and displaced by shrimp gear. Vandalism, improper disposal of old, unfishable traps, poor assembly or maintenance of lines and floats or abandoned by fishermen leaving the fishery are some of the other causes.

So, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries initiated what we call the Derelict Crab Trap Removal Program in 2004 to address the removal of these killing machines. Derelict traps increase ghost-fishing mortality of blue crabs and other species captured incidentally, interfere with other commercial fishing gear fishing operations, create navigation hazards, and degrade the beauty of our natural environment.

Adam Brown’s step son Jett Brownlee shot this 195-pound, seven-point buck at 100 yards with his 243 on the youth hunt at Lake ridge hunting club.

Since most crab traps are made of vinyl coated wire mesh, it can take years for a derelict crab trap to degrade. In the meantime, these traps can “ghost fish,” which means they continue to capture blue crabs and other species. They can also create a navigational hazard for boats and become entangled in other fishing gear like shrimp nets.

A portion of the fees paid by fishermen to participate in the commercial fishing industry funds the volunteer-based program. Since its inception, the program has disposed of more than 50,000 derelict crab traps, with 5,163 being removed in 2021. That’s a lot of crabs and other marine animals saved.

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) will host its annual Derelict Crab Trap Rodeo volunteer cleanup events this February. LDWF encourages volunteers and sponsors to participate in these events to make the crab trap rodeos successful in 2022 and keep our Sportsman’s Paradise pristine. 

Volunteers will help collect traps in the field, unload traps at the dock, and count traps as they are unloaded. Commercial fishermen are highly encouraged to participate, as their experience with the local waters and ability to stack traps on their vessels is valuable. Event organizers will provide boat owners with the equipment needed to collect the traps; however, boat owners are responsible for transporting traps in their vessels. 

Removing abandoned crab traps is a wet and dirty job, so volunteers should wear appropriate clothing and water-resistant gear. Volunteers should bring their own personal floatation device, which should be worn at all times while on the water.

The removal of derelict crab traps along Louisiana’s coast in 2022 from the following four areas: Terrebonne Basin: in an area southwest of Dularge, from midnight Feb. 1, 2022, through 11:59 p.m. Feb. 14.

Vermilion Basin: in an area between the Acadiana Navigational Channel and East Cote Blanche Bay, from midnight Feb. 1, 2022, through 11:59 p.m. Feb. 14. Barataria Basin: in an area south of Lafitte, from midnight Feb. 7, 2022, through 11:59 p.m. Feb. 20, 2022. Calcasieu Basin: in the West Cove portion of Calcasieu Lake, from midnight Feb. 18, 2022, through 11:59 p.m. Feb. 23.

In the weeks leading up to the closures, LDWF will mail notices to all commercial crab trap license holders and crab buyers within the affected parishes as well as nonresident licensed crab fishermen. They’ll remove their traps during the specified time.

Any crab trap found in these areas of the state when the Commission has prohibited their use shall be considered abandoned and may be removed by persons authorized by the Commission.

Crab traps may be removed only between one half-hour before sunrise to one half-hour after sunset. Only LDWF, or those designated by LDWF, will be authorized to remove derelict crab traps in the closure areas. Abandoned traps must be brought to LDWF designated disposal sites and may not be taken from the closed area.

It would be a great way to help our crabbing population if you’d like to volunteer a day picking them up. Log on to https://lsu.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_emKwDve0uxrlFgG to sign up or email pcagle@wlf.la.gov. So until next time, remember to keep the slack out and set the hook hard. Have fun in the outdoors, be safe and may God truly bless you!

Outdoor Calendar

  • Hunter Education Program: Hunter education classes have resumed. Classroom, online with a field shooting day and online for students who are 16 years or older. Website: https://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/page/hunter-and-trapper-education
  • Squirrel and Rabbit Season: Through Feb. 28. Daily bag limit eight; possession 24.
  • Deer/Archery: Through Jan. 31, State Deer Areas 1, 2 and 4; through Feb. 15, State Deer Areas 5, 6 and 9, bucks only; through Jan. 15, State Deer areas 3, 7, 8 and 10.
  • Duck Hunting: East Zone: Nov. 13 (youth and veterans only), Nov. 20 - Dec. 5, Dec. 18 - Jan. 30, Feb. 5 (youth and veterans only). West Zone: Nov. 13 - Dec. 5, Dec. 18 - Jan. 2, Jan. 10-30
  • Louisiana Turkey Shoot: 8:30 a.m. Nov. 17 at Bridgeview Gun Club, Port Allen. Four-shooter teams. Fee $125/shooter, teams $500/$1,000. Sponsorships available. Benefits Quail Forever Atchafalaya Chapter & CCA Louisiana. Call Nolan Reynerson (225) 952-9200 or John Ballance (225) 266-1953. Website: ccalouisiana.com