Easy Lift = Big Impact

Apr 1, 2024

Crew on the vessel Katie Swanson captained in Aransas Bay in February 2024. From left to right: Tess Kelly, graduate student; Callie Jackson; UTMSI Volunteer (holding trap); Tony Cox, System Wide Monitoring Program Technician; and Kimber Montanye, naturalist.

One of my favorite things about my job is seeing the positive impact we can have on the bay. As Stewardship Coordinator and Acting Manager of the Mission-Aransas Reserve, I conduct research on our bay’s systems and oversee programs that instill a sense of stewardship. One program that is very rewarding to help organize is the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s derelict crab trap removal program. This happens every February, when the Department closes local bays to crabbing for ten days. For the past five years, I’ve led a volunteer effort to remove derelict traps for the Aransas Bay System complex. 

This wouldn’t be possible without the help of dedicated partner organizations and many, many volunteers. This past February 19, the winds died down long enough for us to get out on the water and go trap hunting. (Two days before, we had to stand down due to 30-mile-per-hour winds.) Since the pause in the fishery closure always happens in the winter, it can make for a cold outing, but this year it was sunny and beautiful to be out on the water. 

Searching for derelict traps isn’t hard mentally, but it can be physically tough. A lot of times, the traps are incredibly heavy. The ones that wash up on the shorelines can be especially heavy and full of shell hash and vegetation. Aside from the physical workout (it was nice to be the boat captain this year), seeing the impact of their removal is super rewarding. Some of the traps are in areas of lush seagrass and when we pull them up we know that the barren spot they have left behind will soon start to fill in with new growth. It’s also rewarding to save animals. A lot of time, the traps have caught crabs, fish, and even terrapins. All of these animals would have died, and the derelict trap would have continued ghost fishing, often turning into a navigational hazard. 

There’s yet another reason this is such a gratifying project: the volunteers. The removal effort really mobilizes anglers. The Texas CCA often has a good turnout, and it is nice to work with this unique volunteer base that is very important to the bay systems. It’s also a group we don’t often get to work with. Most volunteers take their own boats to patrol the area and it’s fun to think of a small fleet out on the water hunting for derelict traps. This year for the Copano-Aransas Bay system, our volunteers brought in 201 derelict traps! More than 35 volunteers put in 220+ hours. Organization-wise, it was a small lift, but what a huge impact. Not only were we able to remove lots of traps from our bay system, but combined with efforts along the mid-Coast we removed 900 traps. 

It was quite a team that included the San Antonio Bay Partnership, Lavaca Bay Foundation, Matagorda Bay Foundation, USFWS Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, TPWD Coastal Fisheries and Game Wardens, local chapters of the Coastal Conservation Association, Guadalupe Blanco River Authority, Guadalupe Blanco River Trust, San Antonio River Authority, International Crane Foundation, Mid-Coast Texas Master Naturalists, Dallas Zoo, Lavaca-Navidad River Authority, and the Texas Conservation Alliance.

I’m incredibly proud to be a part of this effort. After all, fewer derelict traps create a more sustainable blue crab fishery, which means that I can continue to enjoy the crab stuffed flounder at our local restaurants!

Katie Swanson lifts up a derelict crab trap from Aransas Bay in the 2020 removal event.

This piece is excerpted from an article by Katie Swanson, the stewardship coordinator and acting manager at the Mission-Aransas Reserve in Texas. 

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What We Work ForHealthy HabitatsEasy Lift = Big Impact