Bad Rap for Lobster Traps

Update by Heal the Ocean
March 13, 2023

Correcting Our Lobster Mistake

To Our Heal the Ocean Supporters:

This notice is an important correction – and apology – to our HTO members, and to Santa Barbara’s commercial lobster fleet for errors made in our Thursday 3/9 E-Letter “Bad Rap for Lobster Traps.”

Due to the numerous traps that landed on our beaches in the last severe storm, HTO had suggested that lobster fishermen pull their traps when anticipating impending storms. Additionally, we proposed the development of a protocol in collaboration with the Department of Fish and Wildlife for managing such storm situations.

Our verbiage raised considerable ire amongst the lobster fleet, and for good reason. Pulling lobster traps takes weeks. Our suggestion was one of impossibility. As for suggesting protocol, the lobster fishermen already engage in constructive discussions with state agencies. Thus, it is not necessary to impose additional protocols on their operations.

This offending language originated from a conglomeration of information received by the HTO office via phone, email, and other sources.  As HTO’s Executive Director, I take full responsibility for this error.

Heal the Ocean supports a healthy commercial fishing fleet. In such situations we are here to help, whether it be to assist fishermen in getting traps off the beach, we will continue to help in this way.

We apologize to the fishermen, and to our readers. Please contact us at with any comments or questions, and I will personally get back to you

By Heal the Ocean
March 9, 2023

The winter storms have tossed ashore numerous lobster traps, which have become entangled in rocks, buried in sand, and have created serious environmental consequences for marine life, such as the release of harmful microplastics. Additionally, these traps pose a safety hazard for beachgoers, who may accidentally step on the rusted metal. 

This past weekend HTO Program Director Harry Rabin and Andrew Velikanje of Earthcomb went to work cleaning up derelict lobster traps along the Santa Barbara coast. The team was able to recover approximately 86 lobster traps from Hope Ranch Beach alone.

Lobster traps are a valuable – and necessary – part of lobster fishing. Heal the Ocean is working with the Department of Fish and Wildlife to address this problem, first by creating a protocol that would require fishermen to pull their traps before impending storms. This proactive approach helps to prevent the loss of gear, minimize environmental harm, and protect the safety of our community.

In clearing the beaches (particularly Hope Ranch) HTO brought in a MarBorg roll-off to transport the identifiable traps to a place where fisherman/women were able to reclaim their gear, which helps with financial loss as well as reduce the number of traps winding up in the Tajiguas landfill.

GPS Data showing areas where the cleanup took place (Photo/graphic by Harry Rabin)

Attached Ropes on Traps Entangle Marine Life/Earthcomb Worker Next to Collected Traps


Written by healtheocean

Heal the Ocean focuses on wastewater infrastructure – sewers and septic systems – as well as ocean dumping practices that have contributed to ocean pollution. They are focused on Santa Barbara County, but their methods now serve as a model for other coastal communities across the country. Learn more at

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  1. Why not require lobster traps to have metal ID tags, specific to the owners/fishermen?
    For anyone who is a regular beach user, these traps have been littering our shoreline for eons. Maybe it’s time for accountability on the part of fisherman? Sadly, it seems the actual traps have little value to the fisherman as evidenced by how many are recovered by good citizens who care about our local environment.

  2. California Commercial Lobster Fishery brings in more than 10 million dollars per year, year after year.
    Why are VOLUNTEERS cleaning up COMMERCIAL LOBSTER GEAR from OUR beaches??
    The California Commercial Lobster Fishery has EARNED its “Bad Rap” by not taking action to CLEAN UP their TRASH!! Their derelict lobster traps linger for YEARS on OUR beaches!!
    I enjoy the beach along Shoreline Park, after the recent storms OUR beach was littered with Commercial Lobster Traps, according to my notes on 8JAN2023, in a 1 mile segment, I counted 11 Commercial Lobster Traps on the beach and 26 plastic floats, with no traps attached, which means there are likely 15 traps sitting out of sight on the bottom of OUR ocean, continuing to indiscriminately trap wildlife. I took some photos that day, this past week I walked that same segment of beach, there is no significant sign of trap clean-up, but there seemed to be less traps, it took me awhile to connect the dots, until I looked more closely at my photos- where traps were visible, now there is sand, very likely covering these traps, so now they are harder to find and remove; if only those Commercial Lobster folks had collected their traps weeks ago they wouldn’t now be buried, only to be later re-exposed by another storm.
    Out-of-sight, Out-of-mind: I recently spent the day at the Channel Islands National Park, Santa Cruz Island with a VOLUNTEER group to clean a two mile stretch of the beach, 1500 pounds of trash were collected by VOLUNTEERS that day and brought back to the mainland for proper disposal; I estimate 80% of that trash to be Commercial Lobster Traps. We were unable to fit anymore trash on our boat and easily left an equivalent 1500 pounds on the beach in a pile; likely to linger till next year. If there were this many Commercial Lobster Traps on a 2-mile stretch, how many more Commercial Lobster Traps are littering the 100+ miles of beaches in OUR Channel Islands NATIONAL PARK? ?
    California’s Department of Fish & Wildlife (CDFW) publishes the California Commercial Lobster Fishery Trap loss to be in EXCESS of 6,500 traps EVERY year!! Yes, more than 6,500 Commercial Lobster Traps are reported lost in/on OUR oceans and beaches, a very, very, very, very small percentage of those are cleaned-up by the California Commercial Lobster Fishery. Some will tell you these lobster traps breakdown over two years, but the evidence on OUR beaches prove otherwise.
    California Commercial Lobster Fishery why do you continue allow your trash to litter OUR beaches & ocean?? Why do you use VOLUNTEER labor to clean up for your 10+ million dollar industry?? You don’t even offer a free lobster dinner to those who provide free help; have you no shame??
    CDFW why do you continue to allow this industry to act so environmentally irresponsible??

    • HARBOR SEAL: Please take my upvote. I agree 100% with all of your extremely valid points. The lobster fishermen and industry must be held accountable. It breaks my heart is thinking of all the countless sea creatures lured into lost and abandoned traps, dying slow, senseless deaths. And all of that plastic rope sloughing off into our oceans. THANK YOU for cleaning up the litter.

  3. I truly thank you for the issuing this apology. I am not affiliated with the lobster industry but having worked on the ocean they have all my respect. I was rather upset when I first read the article. I immediately realized that who ever wrote that article didn’t have a clue. Mother Nature is so unpredictable and at times dangerous. There are many fishermen that risk their lives day after day. I truly appreciate the work these men and women endure for my simple pleasure. I am quite sure their intention is to safe guard all their traps. Thank you

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