Plan to remove ‘ghost traps’ from the Long Island Sound


This spring, a decade-old effort by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County to remove thousands of “ghost traps” from the Sound will move into Nassau County waters for the first time.

Hundreds of abandoned lobster traps in the Long Island Sound in Oyster Bay will be removed over the next year by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County in partnership with Friends of the Bay and the Town of Oyster Bay. The traps continue to catch and kill marine life, as they remain in the sound. 

“This project will have a positive impact in solving an environmental problem that few people realize exists,” FOB President Bill Bleyer said. “These abandoned traps continue to attract and ultimately kill a large amount of marine life.”

Friends of the Bay, an environmental conservation and advocacy organization located in Oyster Bay, aims to preserve, protect and restore the ecological integrity and productivity of the Oyster Bay/Cold Spring Harbor Estuary and the surrounding watershed.

Lobster traps, which are also called lobster pots, are made with escape hatches with materials designed to corrode in case they’re lost or abandoned but they don’t always work. Most traps are 3-by-2-by-1-foot boxes.

A $115,841 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to enable environmental improvements around the Sound will fund the removal of neglected lobster gear from 18-square miles between New York and Connecticut. About two thirds of the traps to be removed – probably more than 600 – are off Oyster Bay and the remainder will be removed off the Connecticut shore.

When all of the arrangements are finalized, which FOB hopes will be by early next year, the traps located off Oyster Bay in a “side-scan sonar” survey will be removed by lobstermen hired by CCE to make sure they are eligible for removal under the terms of the organization’s permit from the state Department of Environmental Conservation. FOB’s remote drone camera may be used to survey the traps before they are brought to the surface to expedite the project.

The traps will be collected by CCE in 20 trips and brought to shore to be stored by the town at a site yet to be determined for a month to allow any fisherman who lost the gear to reclaim it before it is recycled.

“The removal of these ghost traps from [the] Long Island Sound is a vital project for the health of the marine environment,” Oyster Bay Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino said. “We are happy to offer our resources in the spirit of teamwork to recycle and discard these abandoned traps.”

The project was started after a side-scan sonar survey that volunteer Ben Roberts of Amagansett, founder of Eastern Search & Survey, conducted for FOB in September of 2020. Where there is a drop-off with a depth of about 60 to 70 feet, his equipment identified more than 700 targets, which may be abandoned and/or illegal traps in the Sound east and west of Lloyd Point, off the entrance to Oyster Bay and Cold Spring Harbor.

"This project will help to solve an environmental problem that few people realize exists," Heather Johnson, FOB’s  executive director said in a statement. "These abandoned traps not only contribute to marine debris, they continue to attract and often kill marine life."

Riverhead-based CCE has been conducting a trap removal project on the North Shore of Long Island for 11 years. By partnering with commercial lobstermen with local knowledge, they are able to go out on the Sound and grapple for traps that have been lost and have no buoys. They have recovered more than 20,000 traps so far.

Once brought to the surface, they are checked for live organisms, and transported to land where they are temporarily stored for a month at local municipal sites. During that time, CCE, with help from the state DEC, attempts to contact any fisherman with identification tags remaining on the traps to see if they want them back. Through cooperative agreements, unclaimed traps are compacted by the local municipality and then loaded into receptacles donated by a metal recycling company. All non-recyclable debris is taken by Covanta Energy to be used through their waste-to-energy program. Occasionally waste traps have been used by artists for marine debris art installations.