GIBSONTON - About 50 volunteers, including many from South Shore, are expected to participate in Tampa Bay Watch's biennial effort Saturday to pull derelict crab traps from area waters.
Volunteers will launch from six ramp locations in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties: Cockroach Bay, Ruskin; Williams Park, Gibsonton; Courtney Campbell Causeway, Tampa; Ft. Desoto Park; Demen's Landing, St. Petersburg and Belleair Causeway.
On odd numbered years, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission mandates a 10-day closure on the harvest of blue crabs from traps in all waters from Broward to Pasco counties, which includes Tampa Bay. The cleanup is scheduled during that closure to identify and retrieve lost and abandoned blue crab and stone crab traps in state waters.
Locally the closure is from July 10 to 19 and extends three miles offshore. It applies to both commercial and recreational free-standing traps and excludes blue crab traps attached to private property, such as docks.
All traps found in state waters during this 10-day period are considered derelict and can be removed, said Sara Herndon, habitat restoration director for Tampa Bay Watch. Thousands have been accumulating for decades in Tampa Bay, she said.
"During our first event in 2011 we removed 215 traps," she said. "That's 215 less out there ghost fishing. I feel any trap removed is a success."
Derelict and abandoned crab traps in the waters are a problem for several reasons. They continue to ghost fish from a trap that will never be harvested, killing not only the crabs but several other recreationally and commercially important species; they pose a navigational hazard to boaters; and they can cause damage to valuable and sensitive habitats like seagrass or natural hard-bottom environments. Additionally, manatees, dolphins and sea turtles can also become entangled in the trap line causing injury or death.
Tampa Bay Watch also conducts crab trap removals with the Florida Airboat Association in the early part of each year when the tides are traditionally low.
"The traps are easier to find since they are more exposed in the water," Herndon said.
In advance of the July 13 clean-up crab fishermen were notified by FWC to pull their traps out of the water. That's why all traps found will be deemed derelict, brought to shore and ultimately destroyed. Any living sea life will be returned to the water.
Not just anyone can remove a trap. Interested parties must be a part of an organized effort authorized by FWC. Volunteer boaters looking to participate in the event can register at tampabaywatch.org or call (727) 867-8166, ext. 233.