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Researchers find more "ghost" crab pots in Delaware Inland Bays than expected

Pamela D'Angelo
A ghost pot sits in the sand on Virginia's Eastern Shore.

A recent research voyage revealed there could be thousands more abandoned crab pots in Delaware’s Inland Bays than previously believed.

University of Delaware researchers found 160 pots after surveying 100 acres of Rehoboth Bay earlier this year—just a sample of the about 20,000 acres that make up Rehoboth and Indian River Bays.

They used sonar equipment to scan the sea bed for these “ghost pots” either lost or abandoned over the years from Delaware’s sport crabbing effort. The pots can attract, capture and kill multiple different species of marine life.

UD Associate Professor of Oceanography Art Trembanis and Delaware Sea Grant Coastal Ecology Specialist Kate Fleming made the trip in February. Each says they were surprised by how many pots they found.

“We really had no idea what to expect beyond the suspicion that we know this is an issue in other states with blue crab fisheries and so maybe we might have some, but, yeah, there were a lot of pots,” said Fleming.

“It was a combination of sort of elation and sort of crestfallen sadness,” added Trembanis. “Elation from the technical standpoint that as a team we were able to pull it off and they we could confirm what we were seeing but that immediately turned to the gravity of it.”

Trembanis says the preliminary assessment indicates there could be as many or more ghost pots in Delaware’s Inland Bays than previously reported in the Chesapeake Bay or New Jersey waterways.

This summer UD grad students and US Naval Academy interns hope to offer a clearer picture of the magnitude of the issue.  They will use drone technology to determine how large the crabbing effort is in Delaware bays, and use that information to estimate how many pots are lost each year.

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