Crab pots. Photo by Bob Tilden/Flickr.

Baltimore County is enlisting local watermen to remove thousands of lost crab pots from the Chesapeake Bay, which harm wildlife and reduce stock for fishermen.

The Baltimore County Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability awarded a $125,000 grant to the Maryland nonprofit Oyster Recovery Partnership, which will manage the project. The nonprofit will use sonar technology to scan the mouth of the Patapsco River off the North Point Peninsula for lost crab pots, and hire crews to remove and log the debris.

“Bringing together the environmental science community and county government to work alongside our local watermen to clean up the Chesapeake Bay represents a real win-win project,” Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. said in a statement. “In removing thousands of derelict crab pots, we not only protect and improve the environment, but we do so in a way that also supports the watermen and small businesses who depend on the Bay for their livelihood.”

In total, crews plan to remove about 1,500 to 2,500 derelict crab pots from the Chesapeake Bay.

County officials said crab pots that are lost during storms or accidentally cut loose by boat propellers are left to lay on the bay floor.

Approximately 3.3 million crabs are killed in the Chesapeake Bay each year by these “ghost traps,” a 2016 study by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science estimated.

The pots continue to trap crabs, finfish, turtles and other aquatic species that won’t be harvested, which harms the Chesapeake Bay ecology and reduces the stock for commercial and recreational crabbing and fishing, officials said.

“When planning large scale oyster restoration, we often notice derelict fishing gear on side scan sonar mapping of the Chesapeake Bay’s bottom, said Ward Slacum, executive director of the Oyster Recovery Partnership, in a statement. “We’re happy to leverage ORP’s expertise and join Baltimore County and Maryland watermen in addressing this problem.”

The Oyster Recovery Partnership has hired 13 crews of local watermen to retrieve the derelict crab pots during the first two weeks of March. Their goal is to remove 50-70% of the more than 3,000 crab pots and traps that were identified along the bay bottom in January and February.

The Baltimore County Department of Public Works and Transportation will recycle or dispose the crab pots, depending on their condition.

Crews will also log the condition of each trap and document whether they contained crabs, fish or other contents. The Oyster Recovery Partnership will then complete a data analysis this spring, and submit a final report on the project to the county’s environmental department this summer.

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Marcus Dieterle

Marcus Dieterle is the managing editor of Baltimore Fishbowl. He returned to Baltimore in 2020 after working as the deputy editor of the Cecil Whig newspaper in Elkton, Md. He can be reached at

One reply on “Local watermen plan to fish out thousands of lost crab pots from Chesapeake Bay”

  1. It’s great if these death traps are removed but those who caused such harmful pollution shouldn’t be rewarded for it. They should instead be fined for it! The city should hire someone else to retrieve the traps, which should be destroyed. There should be a tax on such gear to pay for the inevitable harm their use causes.

    People should stop supporting such cruel and environmentally reckless industries, too. There are marvelous vegan versions of virtually every type of seafood (and other foods) imaginable. They’re delicious, and better for us, too!

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