Lost Fishing Gear Recovery
Marine Debris

Lost Fishing Gear Recovery Program

Every year, crab pots and other fishing gear are lost in our sounds. The Federation and local partners work to remove these pots, which are hazardous to boats and marine life.

Since 2014, the Federation has led the Lost Fishing Gear Recovery Project in an effort to remove lost crab pots from North Carolina sounds. Crab pots can become lost in a variety of ways, including large weather events. With the help of various partners, commercial fishermen are hired to collect the pots during the pot closure period. This project creates opportunities for work during slower times of the year due to colder waters and what is now a month-long blue crab fishery closure, which is longer than in years past.

Video by The Outer Banks Voice. Taken during the 2018 statewide cleanup. 

NC Coastal Federation works to remove lost crab pots with the help of fishermen – WNCT9

This program, which began in northeastern North Carolina waters and has since expanded statewide, improves fish habitat and water quality and supports the coastal economy. The expansion of the program enabled the Federation to hire more significant numbers of commercial fishermen to collect a greater number of lost pots.

This program is funded by the North Carolina General Assembly, with support from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Marine Debris Program.


Recent Updates

2023 Update

Crab Pots 2023 map
2023 Lost Fishing Gear Recovery numbers

A total of 50 commercial watermen and women collected 2,077 crab pots in January 2023 as part of the grant-funded project in the northeast and central coast. The project was funded by the N.C. Commercial Fishing License Resource Fund. The Federation coordinated with the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries and N.C. Marine Patrol for this project.

Region-by-region breakdown

  • In Marine Patrol District 1, the northeast region of the North Carolina coast from the Virginia line to Ocracoke, 19 boats made up of 38 commercial watermen picked up 1,543 crab pots.
  • In Marine Patrol District 2, which covers the central region of the coast from Ocracoke to Emerald Isle, six boats made up of 12 commercial watermen picked up 534 crab pots.
  • In Marine Patrol District 3, which covers the southeast region of the coast from Cape Carteret to the South Carolina line, the N.C. Marine Patrol removed 45 pots, in a separate effort from the grant-funded project.

In Marine Patrol District 1, whole pots, in good condition, recovered from the Albemarle and Pamlico Sound areas, were sorted, stored, and made available for the rightful property owners to reclaim. More than 70% of these crab pots were claimed by their rightful owners through this process. This supports the coastal economy, as the value of a used crab pot put back into the industry, is much greater than scrapping the gear for metal at pennies per pound.

2022 Update

2022 Lost Fishing Gear Recovery numbers

A total of 48 commercial watermen and women collected 1,983 crab pots in January 2022 as part of the grant-funded project on the northeast and central coast. The N.C. General Assembly provided $100,000 in funding for the Lost Fishing Gear Recovery Project and other large-scale marine debris removal through a Coastal Debris Cleanup Fund. The Federation coordinated with the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries and N.C. Marine Patrol for this project.

Region-by-region breakdown

  • In Marine Patrol District 1, the northeast region of the North Carolina coast from the Virginia line to Ocracoke, 18 boats made up of 36 commercial watermen picked up 1,274 crab pots.
  • In Marine Patrol District 2, which covers the central region of the coast from Ocracoke to Emerald Isle, six boats made up of 12 commercial watermen picked up 709 crab pots.
  • In Marine Patrol District 3, which covers the southeast region of the coast from Cape Carteret to the South Carolina line, the N.C. Marine Patrol removed 12 pots.

In Marine Patrol District 1, whole pots, in good condition, recovered from the Albemarle and Pamlico Sound areas, were sorted, stored, and made available for the rightful property owners to reclaim. More than 80% of these crab pots were claimed by their rightful owners through this process. This supports the coastal economy, as the value of a used crab pot put back into the industry, is much greater than scrapping the gear for metal at pennies per pound.

2021 Update

2021 Lost Fishing Gear Recovery NC

View 2021 Updates Marine Patrol Numbers

A total of 60 commercial watermen and women collected 3,009 crab pots in January 2021 as part of the grant-funded project on the northeast and central coast. The Commercial Fishing Resource Fund Program provided $115,599 for the project, with approval from the North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission Commercial Resource Fund Committee and the Funding Committee for the North Carolina Commercial Resource Fund. The Federation worked with Dare County Public Works and coordinated with the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries and N.C. Marine Patrol for this project.

Region-by-region breakdown

  • In Marine Patrol District 1, the northeast region of the North Carolina coast from the Virginia line to Ocracoke, 21 boats made up of 42 commercial watermen picked up 2,243 crab pots.
  • In Marine Patrol District 2, which covers the central region of the coast from Ocracoke to Emerald Isle, nine boats made up of 18 commercial watermen picked up 776 crab pots.
  • In Marine Patrol District 3, which covers the southeast region of the coast from Cape Carteret to the South Carolina line, the N.C. Marine Patrol removed 119 pots.

In Marine Patrol District 1, whole pots, in good condition, recovered from the Albemarle and Pamlico Sound areas, were sorted, stored, and made available for the rightful property owners to reclaim. More than 500 crab pots were returned to their rightful owners through this process.

2019 Update

View the 2019 summary.

A total of 78 commercial watermen and women worked in January 2019 to remove 3,112 crab pots from the North Carolina coast. The Lost Fishing Gear Recovery Project is part of a statewide marine debris removal effort led by the Coastal Federation with $100,000 appropriation from the North Carolina General Assembly. This cleanup was conducted in all three Marine Patrol districts — covering all internal coastal waters.

Region-by-region breakdown

  • In Marine Patrol District 1, which covers the northeast region of the coast, 24 boats made up of 48 commercial watermen picked up 1,714 crab pots.
  • In Marine Patrol District 2, which covers the central region of the coast, eight boats made up of 16 commercial watermen picked up 1,159 crab pots.
  • In Marine Patrol District 3, which covers the southeast region of the coast, seven boats made up of 14 commercial watermen picked up 239 crab pots.

2018 Update

2018 updated crab pot numbers
Chart of the number of pots collected by year. The highlighted sections note the Lost Fishing Gear Recovery Project, which was only in District 1 from 2014 to 2016.

View the 2018 summary.

This statewide project continued to serve all marine patrol districts in 2018 thanks to another $100,000 in state funding for the project. A total of 76 commercial watermen worked throughout the coast of North Carolina in January 2018 to collect 3,496 lost crab pots. The project lasted from Jan. 17-27, with boats working anywhere from two to six days, depending on the Marine Patrol district.

Region-by-region breakdown

  • In Marine Patrol District 1, which covers the northeast region of the coast, 24 boats made up of 48 commercial watermen picked up 2,245 crab pots.
  • In Marine Patrol District 2, which covers the central region of the coast, eight boats made up of 16 commercial watermen picked up 1,004 crab pots.
  • In Marine Patrol District 3, which covers the southeast region of the coast, six boats made up of 12 commercial watermen picked up 247 crab pots.

Program History

Lost Fishing Gear Recovery
Photo by Chris Hannant Photography.

In 2013, the Federation received funding from the NOAA Marine Debris Program and North Carolina Sea Grant to galvanize a partnership with local commercial fishermen, the North Carolina Marine Patrol, local nonprofits, scientists, and community volunteers to collect marine debris in northeastern North Carolina. The Federation then upcycled these recovered pots to build oyster reef habitats at three locations around Roanoke Island.

From 2014-2016, the Federation and partners conducted this project only in the first marine patrol district, or northeastern North Carolina waters. Over the three years, 41 total fishermen were employed in the following areas: Albemarle, Croatan, Currituck, Pamlico, and Roanoke Sounds; Alligator River; Bulls and Kitty Hawk Bay.

With additional funding from the NOAA Marine Debris Program in 2015, the Federation was able to continue the project in northeastern North Carolina waters and was able to purchase new side-scan sonars and data collection tablets.

From Crab Pot to Oyster Reef

In 2014 and 2015, the Federation tested a new restoration technique — using recycled crab pots to create oyster reefs. The pots that were in good condition, yet unidentifiable, were upcycled to create the oyster reefs. In a multi-faceted process, the pots are cleaned and all entryways are closed to prevent possible bycatch. The pots are then coated in a pH-balanced mortar that serves to add weight to the pots while providing substrate for baby oysters (called spat) to land on. This “upcycling” was completed by several groups of college spring break students.

The Federation worked with the Division of Coastal Management and additional commenting agencies to secure the needed permits for recycled crab pot deployment. The pots were deployed as oyster reefs at three sites around Roanoke Island in the summer of 2015. A total of 150 pots were recycled to create artificial oyster reef habitat.

Similar work has been done with remarkable success in Virginia and South Carolina. Further, Dr. Niels Lindquist and Joel Fodrie of UNC Institute of Marine Sciences have experimented with upcycled pots near Morehead City.

2017 Statewide Expansion

In the summer of 2016, the North Carolina Assembly appropriated $100,000 to this project to facilitate a statewide expansion and hire greater numbers of commercial fishermen and women starting in January 2017. The funding was administered by N.C. Sea Grant and the 2017 project was a huge success. This additional funding enabled the Federation to hire 72 commercial watermen, who spread out along the coast to collect 4,304 crab pots — more than the three previous years combined.

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