VIMS To Mail Derelict Crab Pot Surveys to Local Watermen

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By Linda Cicoira — The Virginia Institute of Marine Science will send a snail mail survey set to arrive this month in the mailboxes of about 1,100 hard pot crabbers licensed in Virginia. The goal is to gain input on how many pots watermen lose and what efforts they want to address the issue, according to vims.edu

Studies show crabbers lose between 12 to 20 percent of their 600,000 pots each year to boat propellers, storms, and other causes. The lost pots can cause both ecological and economic impacts. They cost between $35 and $50 apiece.

“The survey will ask watermen what they think about derelict pots, what activity—if any—they would prefer in order to address the issue, and what kinds of incentives they would want for participating in that activity,” said Jim DelBene, a VIMS graduate student who created the survey. “Successful mitigation strategies require buy-in from the crabbers,  so it’s essential to hear from them. The large number of licensed hard crabbers located throughout coastal Virginia make it difficult to hear from all perspectives.”

The watermen will also be given hypothetical situations to evaluate various preferences and trade-offs. A program to retrieve ghost pots was successful a few years ago when watermen were paid through a federal grant to remove derelict fishing gear from the bay. The program aided crabbers when Virginia shut down a winter crab harvest. For about four years, watermen removed more than 32,000 derelict crab pots from the lower bay.

Researchers say the cleanup increased harvests between 2008 and 2014 by more than 38 million pounds, or a quarter of the harvest for that time, valued at $33.5 million. According to VIMS, ghost pots catch more than six million blue crabs every year, killing more than half of them. Their carcasses then lure other creatures.

J.C. Hudgins, of Virginia Beach, president of the Virginia Waterman’s Association and a member of the VMRC Crab Management and Advisory Committee, worked with DelBene on the survey.

“I feel the watermen need to be able to voice their opinions as to how they feel about derelict pots,” Hudgins said. “For instance, I think the percentage of pots lost is lower than the 12-20 percent found in studies. Jim’s survey provides a great opportunity for watermen to share their voices, and really find out what watermen want.”

DelBene’s first task in drafting the survey was to review the range of different regulations and activities used in other states with commercial blue crab fisheries. “I gathered information … from Connecticut all the way down through Texas,” said DelBene, “and used that information to inform what kinds of activities are possible … from providing on-land recycling facilities for old pots to educating recreational boaters on how to avoid severing the line that ties a submerged pot to its visible surface buoy.” 

Requiring an identification tag on each pot, not just on the pot’s buoy, has been discussed.

Survey results will maintain confidentiality and protect participant privacy, DelBene said. Participants will be eligible to win one of four $100 grocery gift cards.