Abandoned Crabbing Gear Sent to NJ Trash Incinerator

– by Maria Scandale, March 5, 2016, The Sandpaper

crab-potsJagged metal and wrecked plastic tangled with tentacles of rope have no place in Barnegat Bay, but they lurk there, snaring and often killing marine life, and jeopardizing boating. Why not turn them into energy instead? So they’re being extracted, these “derelict” crab pots and fishing gear, in a two-year public-private project that will recycle them at a North Jersey facility to produce electricity.

The primary funder of this Fishing for Energy project is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration through a $109,619 grant. The collection of the derelict gear is being handled by Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey, and the processor is Covanta, a New Jersey-based sustainable waste and energy solutions company.

“We’re recycling the old derelict fishing gear – since 2008 we have collected over 3 million pounds from ports on both the east and west side of the United States – and that equates to producing enough power for 2,200 homes for a month,” said Meg Morris, vice president of materials management and community affairs at Covanta.

“While it’s not millions of homes, it’s an awful lot of homes that we’re producing the electricity for, and we’re removing this material at no cost to the commercial fishermen.”

Waretown was the site of a press conference on Feb. 26 because Spencer’s Marina in Waretown has been added as a collection site for the debris until it is taken to Covanta’s Union, N.J., facility. Another new collection site is in Mantoloking.

The goal is 1,000 traps to be taken out of Barnegat Bay from Brick Township to Stafford Township in the two-year marine debris removal project, led by CWF. The project is similar to one done two years ago in Great Bay/Mullica River through Stockton University, which was in turn modeled after a Chesapeake Bay cleanup.

Enter R.J. Cericola, a commercial fisherman based in Point Pleasant, who in fact did enter dramatically aboard a gray-painted, plywood-clad boat piled with old gear he had found. The captain is one of the local crabbers whom the project is working with to locate the traps.

“He has done a tremendous job, retrieving 103 pots in six days on the water,” pointed out Stephanie Egger, a wildlife biologist with CWF leading the project. “Our goal is 500 pots for year one, so he has already got one-fifth of them done in a a very short time.”

Swarmed by media as he disembarked at the marina, he made the heavy work sound simple. Many of the discarded traps are underwater, found by side sonar. But this batch he had dragged from the marshy shorelines, in the path of nesting terrapins.

The plastic-coated steel crab traps, older chicken-wire-type metal traps and other gear are not only the kinds used by commercial crabbers; some is of a type allowed for recreational crabbing. Lost or abandoned for whatever reason, they were not part of the bigger haul of cars, lawn chairs and gutters that was scooped out of the bay in a cleanup effort by the state after Superstorm Sandy.

David Wheeler, executive director of Conserve Wildlife Foundation, told television cameras, “Every year, thousands of diamondback terrapins, as well as countless other species of marine invertebrates, fish, crabs and other crustaceans are caught in these abandoned crab pots and die. Particularly with vulnerable wildlife species such as diamondback terrapins, it’s a real threat to them here in Barnegat Bay. That’s one of the reasons that this project with all its partners sets out to make a difference.”

Blue crabs, northern diamondback terrapins, flounder species, American eels, black sea bass and Atlantic croakers were the main species listed as vulnerable to being trapped by the gear.

Boating is also impacted. In the shallow Barnegat Bay, boats can encounter the debris, so the “navigational hazard” is a primary reason to get the debris out of the water, representatives said.

Dave Westerholm, director of NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration, said marine debris is “a global problem that impacts local communities. We also know that marine debris can be a navigational hazard to our commercial mariners, and limit recreational opportunities on or near our coastline.”

Thirdly, the debris is a costly nuisance to commercial crabbers. Old underwater traps are known as “ghost” traps because they keep on trapping harvestable crabs along with other marine life – crabs that could otherwise be harvested for the crabbers’ livelihood.

“This phenomenon is also known as ghost fishing, and it results in lost opportunities and financial losses for fishermen,” Westerholm said.

Television crews from ABC Channel 6 had joined media from northern New Jersey who had traveled to the nearly hidden woods and estuary location of the Lighthouse Center for Natural Resource Education in Waretown for the first half of the press conference. Part two was dockside at the marina, where the reporters were wondering aloud how many traps are lost each year.

CWF’s Egger said, “In the Chesapeake Bay, losses may be as high as 30 percent of the about 370,000 pots used annually, and that accounts for $2,000 per pot per season. In New Jersey the number of lost pots is largely unknown; however, 385,000 people recreational crab in July and August,” she said, and “local fishermen estimate that 10 percent of pots are lost annually. After Sandy, one fisherman from Forked River lost 400 crab pots in Barnegat Bay.”

The project will work with the N.J. Bureau of Marine Fisheries to develop a reporting system for lost gear. Also, “prevention methods” and “educational efforts” for recreational fishermen are needed, officials said.

“Through the collection of data about pot conditions, bycatch, and the status of bycatch reduction devices, as well as surveys of the commercial and recreational fishing community, the project is working to better understand how many pots are lost in Barnegat Bay and the impact of these lost pots,” Egger said, “with the ultimate goal of developing a long-term reporting system for lost pots, which in turn will reduce the impact of derelict gear.”

But for the next two years, the old pots and pieces of pots, along with the snarl of rubber and rope and other marine debris collected, will go to the Covanta waste-to-energy facility for the Fishing to Energy effort.

Morris explained how the process works as it pertains to the marine debris segment of materials. Covanta has 40 conversion facilities; the one used for this process in Rahway does not involve a metal shredder and giant magnets, as some of the other facilities do. It uses more manual labor to separate the metal for recycling and the other material for combustion.

“It’s all these nets that are balled up. Some of the pots have metal on them; you have rope, you have rubber bumpers and all this kind of stuff that comes in balled up together.

“When it comes onto our tipping floor, it is going to be this big mass of material, and actually, our guys will try and pull it apart, pull the metal out. Sometimes they have to use chainsaws to chop some of the bigger pieces, so it’s a lot of work that has to be done. But ultimately, we are able to combust that material, and any metal that happens to go into our combusters, we’ll pull that metal out on the back end,” outlined Morris.

The overall project has educational components for schools and colleges as well. Among other partners are MATES (The Marine Academy of Technology and Environmental Science); Monmouth University; Stockton University; ReClam the Bay; New Jersey Corporate Wetlands Restoration Partnership; commercial crabbers; and a collaboration with the WeCrab education project led by the Jacques Cousteau National Estuarine Research Reserve/Rutgers University and Stockton University.

The shallow nature of the bay adds to the need to pluck the debris from it. So did Superstorm Sandy. “Sandy as a whole blew everything around and added a lot of debris. These could have been there before then, but also from the past year,” commented Rob Blumenthal, director of communications for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation in Washington, who attended.

He noted in conversation that for that reason, navigation charts of the bay “become outdated within a year, let alone when you add in hazards like the crab pots.”

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