The Current Topics in Biology Seminar Series continued on April 4 with guest speaker Mark Sullivan, associate professor of marine sciences at Stockton University. Sullivan’s presentation “Identification, Recovery, and Impact of Ghost Fishing Gear in NJ Coastal Bays,” focused on lost crab traps in the Mullica River-Great Bay Estuary located in Ocean and Atlantic counties.

Sullivan explained much of the funding for the project to get rid of the ghost crab traps in the bay came from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Marine Debris program. The objectives of the project are to identify the location of the ghost crab traps, recover the traps, and educate boaters, recreational, and commercial fisherman about how to prevent traps from becoming ghost traps.

Sullivan estimated 2,000 to 2,500 crab traps were lost in the Mullica River-Great Bay Estuary in south Jersey. The traps become lost when they are detached from the buoys that mark their location and are referred to as “ghost traps” because they still catch crabs even though they remain on the bottom of the bay.

“They have a cumulative effect because ghost traps capture individuals from a number of different species,” said Sullivan. Other fish and marine life get caught in the ghost traps with the crabs and die.

Ghost traps negatively impact both the environment and the commercial crabbing business. “Ghost traps compete with active traps for catching crabs,” he said. In addition, lost traps mean lost money for commercial fishermen.

“The most beneficial part is the preventative measure so we can prevent another one of these cleanups in the future,” said Sullivan. “We are giving the commercial crabbers the tools to recover their traps.”

When traps are recovered, they can be used again and don’t have a negative impact on the environment.

“I have been interested in marine biology my whole life,” said Sullivan who grew up near the coast in Massachusetts. He said his interest became more focused later in life on “merging research to better manage recreational and commercial fisheries.”