Mitigating by-catch of diamondback terrapins in crab pots

Authors

  • Kristen M. Hart,

    Corresponding author
    1. U.S. Geological Survey, Southeast Ecological Science Center, 3205 College Avenue, Davie, FL 33314, USA
    • U.S. Geological Survey, Southeast Ecological Science Center, 3205 College Avenue, Davie, FL 33314, USA.
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  • Larry B. Crowder

    1. Duke Center for Marine Conservation, Nicholas School of the Environment Marine Laboratory, 135 Duke Marine Lab Road, Beaufort, NC 28516, USA
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  • Associate Editor: John C. Maerz.

Abstract

Chronic by-catch of diamondback terrapins (Malaclemys terrapin) in blue crab (Callinectes sapidus) pots is a concern for terrapin conservation along the United States Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts. Despite the availability of by-catch reduction devices (BRDs) for crab pots, adoption of BRDs has not been mandated and by-catch of terrapins continues. We conducted experimental fishing studies in North Carolina's year-round blue crab fishery from 2000 to 2004 to evaluate the ability of various BRDs to reduce terrapin by-catch without a concomitant reduction in the catch of blue crabs. In 4,822 crab pot days fished, we recorded only 21 terrapin captures. Estimated capture rates were 0.003 terrapins/pot per day in hard crab experimental fishing and 0.008 terrapins/pot per day in peeler experimental fishing. All terrapin captures occurred from April to mid-May within 321.4 m of the shoreline. Longer soak times produced more dead terrapins, with 4 live and 4 dead during hard crab experimental fishing and 11 live and 2 dead during peeler experimental fishing. The 4.0-cm BRDs in fall and 4.5-cm and 5.0-cm BRDs in spring reduced the catch of legal-sized male hard crabs by 26.6%, 21.2%, and 5.7%, respectively. Only the 5.0-cm BRDs did not significantly affect the catch of legal-sized hard male crabs. However, BRDs had no measurable effect on catch of target crabs in the peeler crab fishery. Our results identify 3 complementary and economically feasible tools for blue crab fishery managers to exclude terrapins from commercially fished crab pots in North Carolina: 1) gear modifications (e.g., BRDs); 2) distance-to-shore restrictions; and 3) time-of-year regulations. These measures combined could provide a reduction in terrapin by-catch of up to 95% without a significant reduction in target crab catch. © 2011 The Wildlife Society.

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