Abandoned crab traps cause unnecessary crab death, pose danger to swimmers and boaters


It is unlawful to leave abandoned traps in the water. Violators may be subject to fines.

Invented by Benjamine F. Lewis in the 1920s, the crab trap is the most common method used to catch and harvest crabs and is used worldwide.

The crab trap is a large square trap typically constructed out of galvanized chicken wire. The trap has two internal chambers. The bottom chamber, or "downstairs", consists of two or four entrance funnels, known as "throats", which allow the crab to easily enter but not exit. In the center of the bottom chamber is the "bait box" which is constructed of fine-mesh galvanized wire so that the crab cannot get to the bait. The top chamber is the holding area, known as the "parlor" or "upstairs". Crabs enter the parlor through oblong, funnel-shaped, holes cut into the floor of the parlor making it difficult for the crab to swim back downstairs.

Crab traps utilize the crab’s very own escape instincts in order to trap them. Crabs smell the bait and circle the pot, entering through one of the throats. Once inside and unable to reach the bait, the crab feels trapped and threatened. When threatened, a crab instinctively swims up towards the surface to escape, where it winds up inside the parlor. It remains in the parlor until removed through a special opening along one of the top edges.

Most crab traps have two small exit holes up high in the parlor called "cull rings" and measure 2 3/8 inches in diameter. These rings are big enough to let small crabs escape yet small enough to trap the larger crabs.

When a trap is abandoned, the trouble is twofold. The first problem arises if several crabs are left in the trap for an unusually long period of time. Since all crustaceans are cannibalistic, the unattended trap then becomes a "survival of the fittest" battleground. And, since the traps don’t discriminate as to the type of crab that is trapped, the possibility of trapping a sponge crab, which is a female blue crab bearing eggs, is a consideration. In addition to it being illegal to capture and keep a sponge crab, there are also size requirements that prohibit the capture of any crab that is less than five inches from lateral spine to lateral spine.

The second concern arises when the "ghost traps" are left for a long period of time and begin to grow to the bottom of the sea floor. These abandoned traps pose a hazard for boaters and swimmers.

According to Mark Maddox, a marine biologist at the Office of Fisheries Management of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), although there are no license requirements for recreational crabbing, there are specific laws in effect that if not followed can result in fines and or confiscation of the crab traps.

Regulations provide that each person is allowed two recreational crab traps. Traps must be tied or attached to a yellow buoy and the name and address of the owner of the traps must be written on the buoy. This applies to traps tied to private docks as well. No trap may be placed within 600 feet of a boat ramp. If any portion of the trap is exposed at low tide, it can be confiscated. A trap cannot be left unattended for more than five days.

Anyone who is found violating these laws or using an unregulated crab trap is subject to a minimum of $50 in fines and will have their equipment confiscated.

Residents are urged to remove their abandoned traps from Bellinger Island and to crab in a responsible manner.

Daniel Island Publishing

225 Seven Farms Drive
Unit 108
Daniel Island, SC 29492 

Office Number: 843-856-1999
Fax Number: 843-856-8555


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