Report Florida Lost or Abandoned Traps

Submitted by SGF STAFF on September, Sep 17, 2017

Powerful tropical storms and hurricanes leave a trail of destruction that often seems unfathomable to observers, let alone the people who are directly impacted.

Loss of life and property capture headlines and for a few days, and first responders are recognized for the heroes they are every single day as the world watches feats of bravery from the comfort of their couches. Those of us who can’t get to ‘ground zero’ often feel compelled to find other ways to chip in – donating money, delivering supplies to shelters, etc.

Like a scratch that is initially unnoticed until it becomes infected, sometimes the smaller problems can lead to bigger issues down the road. Such is the case with lost or abandoned traps in Florida during a calm year, let alone after a hurricane like Irma that had coastal impacts literally all across the state.

Marine traps refer to lobster and crab traps, which have been lost or left behind by their rightful owners. They can be problematic because they decrease the efficiency of our recreational and commercial fishers, potentially harm habitats, and continue to trap fish and invertebrates until the trap degrades.

Traps are usually made of wood or plastic and can weigh about 40 pounds, often pinned to the bottom with cement weights. They are tethered by nylon rope to the floats we all see, warning boaters to steer clear to avoid boat damage as well as potential conflicts with commercial and recreational trap owners or legal trouble. (It is a felony for unpermitted persons to handle a commercial or recreational trap.)

In 2013, it was estimated that there were 1.1 million lost traps in the waters just around the Florida Keys. That same study estimated that half a million traps are deployed each year, 85,000 of which become lost which can have big consequences. These, of course, are tethered to miles of nylon rope which can also be destructive.

“The lobsters, crabs and fish that find their way into those traps are doomed,” said Dave Nickles, Vice Chairman of SGF. “I can’t imagine how many traps have been lost due to Irma.”

Jim Estes of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) recognizes the problem. “With other storms possible, traps will continue to move, potentially causing damage to important habitats,” he said.

How can we help?

It’s not as easy as just putting a temporary hold on the laws protecting commercial trapping property from theft and tampering. “It’s a difficult issue,” says Estes. “Commercial fishermen are very protective of their traps, and the laws are strict. Dropping all laws to allow boaters and anglers to clean them up, even temporarily, is likely to lead to direct conflicts.”

This doesn’t mean FWC is not working to address the issue, and quickly. “We are working with the industry to help locate traps for removal,” said Estes, and FWC already has a derelict trap removal program in place that deserves more publicity.

For now, Estes says even more help is needed, and everyday anglers can get involved.

“We just need to know where they are. We don’t want anglers to remove the traps themselves, there is too much risk. But if we get the coordinates of the traps, we can work with the industry to get them.”

To help FWC with this issue, SGF has set up a lost or abandoned trap 'email hotline',, where boaters and anglers can report the location of any and all derelict traps they see.  GPS coordinates are best, as SGF will be formatting the locations and sending them directly to Estes at FWC.

SGF will keep the email open indefinitely, and transfer information to FWC as it arrives.

  • Obtaining your location: GPS coordinates are pretty easy to obtain through boat electronics or smart phones. The iAngler app is our recommended option. The free app has a location feature that allows you to either drop a pin, or grab GPS coordinates on the fly. Anglers simply need to download the free app, register with a username and password, and open the app to create a location once you find a trap (see image on left). If you already use the app for fishery management purposes or for a personal fishing log, you can create a new location during an ongoing trip. (If you don’t flag that location as a ‘favorite’ it is essentially a temporary spot that won’t clutter your personal log book.)

Trap image courtesy NOAA. Please do not attempt to remove ghost traps. There are physical risks as well as legal issues. Reporting traps at will help save marine life and habitats.