Crab trap removal volunteers needed on Sabine Lake, East Galveston Bay

Crab trap removal volunteers needed on Sabine Lake, East Galveston Bay

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with crab traps for years. I love to use them to catch big blue crabs and the occasional stone crab on Sabine Lake and Keith Lake. Conversely, I hate to have to get out of the boat and untangle a mangled derelict crab trap that’s been wound up on the prop of my outboard.

Nothing can ruin a fishing trip faster than spending an hour or so cutting a wire crab trap off your prop. Last spring, I was running along the Louisiana shoreline of Sabine Lake and noticed a guy in the water working on his prop. I eased over and asked if he needed some assistance. Turns out he did. He didn’t have any pliers and was trying to unwrap the wire of a shredded crab trap from his prop with his hands. I never run my boat without having a pair of needle-nose pliers handy. They can be used to pull and cut line and wire from a tangled prop.

Aside from getting rid of gill nets along the Texas coast, one of the best things that ever happened was the crab trap removal program run by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Since TPWD’s Abandoned Crab Trap Removal Program began in 2002, a total of 29,552 wire mesh traps have been removed and disposed of, mainly on the mid and upper coast. This year, the department hopes to see the count rise above 30,000.

Right now TPWD is looking for volunteers interested in helping to remove abandoned crab traps — ghost-like killers of marine life — from their haunts along the coast.

“From Feb. 15-24, all Texas bays will be closed for crabbing,” said TPWD’s Mike Cox. “Any traps left in the water will be assumed to be abandoned and considered ‘litter’ under state law. This allows volunteers to legally remove any crab traps they find.”

Cox says that game wardens remove more than 2,500 illegal traps annually, but many more still lie in the water to tangle fishermen’s lines, trap game fish and crabs through what biologists call “ghost fishing,” snag bay shrimpers’ nets and create an unsightly view of Texas shores.

“It is estimated that one ghost fishing crab trap can trap and kill 26 blue crabs per trap per year,” said Art Morris, TPWD program coordinator. “So the 29,552 traps we have removed add up to over 480,000 blue crabs alone that have been saved from ghost fishing — if the trap was lost for only one year. Some traps had been derelict since 1998.”

One study based on a biological inventory of 1,703 abandoned crab traps revealed 3,675 organisms in those traps, averaging two per trap. Some had many more.

“Naturally, we saw blue crabs and stone crabs, but we also saw just about every species of important Texan sport fish,” Morris said. “In addition, we found 10 non-game fish species and 11 invertebrate species and even diamondback terrapins. Forty-one species in all.”

TPWD will provide trap drop-off sites at several locations in each major bay system along the coast starting Feb.16, from 8 a.m. to noon, depending on the weather. Additionally, at all sites, dumpsters marked with banners will be available to receive traps for the duration of the closure.

Volunteers can concentrate their efforts on the opening weekend or work at their own pace anytime during the closure, but traps cannot be removed prior to Feb. 15 or after Feb. 24. TPWD asks that those who work on their own report where and how many traps you collected so the department can keep track of the total number of traps removed.

“The success of this program is a reflection of the keen sense of stewardship anglers and other outdoor enthusiasts have for our marine resources,” Morris said. “Volunteers have removed more traps from Texas waters than in any other state, and the results show. The waning number of traps removed each year indicates that their efforts are having an impact.”

The Coastal Conservation Association Texas, Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries Program, and the Galveston Bay Foundation are providing continued support to the crab trap removal program, along with additional aid from numerous organizations and companies who are volunteering their services.

“To participate, volunteers can arrange to pick up free tarps, gloves, trap hooks and additional information at their local TPWD Coastal Fisheries Field Stations,” said Cox. TPWD requests that volunteers who remove traps record and submit information about the number of traps that they collect as well as any sightings of diamondback terrapins.

At Sabine Lake you can pick up tarps, gloves, etc. at the TPWD Coastal Fisheries Field Station on Pleasure Island near the yacht club.

TPWD proposing changes to fishing regulations

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is proposing fishing regulation changes that include a clarification of fish harassment rules and new tagging rules for bull redfish.

Clarifying the definition of fish harassment, it would be unlawful to use any vessel to harry, herd or drive fish by any means including but not limited to operating any vessel in a repeated circular course for the purpose of or resulting in the concentration of fish for the purpose of taking or attempting to take fish.

The proposed change regarding bonus red drum tags would make it a violation for a person to possess an aquatic wildlife resource taken in the Exclusive Economic Zone (federal waters 9-200 miles out) during a closed season provided by federal law; within a protected length limit or in excess of the daily bag limit established by federal law; or with any gear or device prohibited by federal law; or without a required license or permit required by federal law.

Comments on the proposed rules may be submitted by mail or e-mail to Robert Macdonald robert [dot] macdonald [at] tpwd [dot] state [dot] tx [dot] us, TPWD, 4200 Smith School Road, Austin, TX 78744.