News from the DNR Office of Communications

Hundreds Of Watermen Collect Ghost Crab Pots

DNR and ORP partner on Federally Funded Waterman Work Program

Annapolis, MD (March 4, 2010) — Maryland watermen have pulled nearly 1,500 abandoned crab pots from the West, Patuxent and Patapsco Rivers as a part of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Ghost Crab Pot Retrieval program. The Program, which is a partnership between DNR, the Oyster Recovery Partnership, Versar inc. and more than 360 watermen started on February 22, and is a part of Governor Martin O’Malley plan to help mitigate economic losses from the declining blue crab fishery, while also helping to restore the Chesapeake Bay.

“This is a great opportunity, because it not only improves the health of the Chesapeake Bay, but provides watermen with work,” said Governor O’Malley. “We owe a debt of gratitude to Senator Barbara Mikulski and the Congressional Delegation for supporting the funding to enable programs, such as Ghost Crab Pot retrieval, which provide Marylanders with jobs and help create a sustainable future.”

“We want to save our crabs, save our watermen and save our Maryland way of life. In order to bring back the crab, we need a breather. But while we do that, we want our watermen to work," Senator Mikulski said. “That’s why I fought to put crab disaster funds in the federal checkbook.”

Estimates based on side-scan sonar surveys conducted by the Maryland Geological Survey, and the NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office indicate that there are thousands of ghost pots on the bottom of Maryland’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay and tributaries. The problem with these abandoned pots is that they may still be catching and killing crabs and finfish. Additionally, captured fish and crabs essentially become bait for other predators that will enter and also become trapped. Some studies indicate that the average crab pot will last about two years in saltwater.

Most ghost pots are lost due to storms or when buoy lines are cut by passing powerboat propellers. Sonar studies have discovered the highest concentration of ghost pots in high recreational traffic areas. A 1990 survey of commercial crabbers indicated that 10- to 30-percent of their pots were lost each year. It’s unlikely that they have simply been abandoned by watermen since the pots are valuable, costing $20 to $30 each.

“The watermen are earning this money, it’s a job and a half,” said Waterman Crew Chief JR Gross

In 2008, Governor Martin O’Malley asked the U.S. Department of Commerce to declare the Chesapeake Bay crab fishery a federal disaster due to the historic low blue crab population. Senators Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin and the Congressional Delegation secured $15 million in crab disaster funds for Maryland to help stem the collapse of the crab population and to assist the commercial fishing industry. Also in 2008, Governor O’Malley and Former Virginia Governor Tim Kaine enacted legislation to help revitalize the blue crab population.

As a result, the ghost pot retrieval program is high on the list of crab disaster projects, and it is designed to employ commercial watermen to handle the work. Approximately 450 watermen have been offered contracts for up to $400 per day plus an additional $150 for a helper to recover and dispose of ghost pots from selected sights. The initial working areas will be the Patuxent, West and Rhode Rivers where concentrations of ghost pots were found.

   March 4, 2010

Contact: Josh Davidsburg
410-260-8002 office I 410-507-7526 cell

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2009, is the state agency responsible for providing natural and living resource-related services to citizens and visitors. DNR manages more than 467,000 acres of public lands and 17,000 miles of waterways, along with Maryland's forests, fisheries, and wildlife for maximum environmental, economic and quality of life benefits. A national leader in land conservation, DNR-managed parks and natural, historic, and cultural resources attract 12 million visitors annually. DNR is the lead agency in Maryland's effort to restore the Chesapeake Bay, the state's number one environmental priority. Learn more at