Volunteers Clear Lobster Traps from Black Rock Beach

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Source: Santa Barbara Channel Keeper

On Saturday, May 21, nearly fifty volunteers with Santa Barbara Channelkeeper and members of the commercial fishing community worked together at Black Rock Beach in Goleta to dig out and remove forty lobster traps that had washed ashore and prepared twenty more for future removal.

During lobster season, storms with heavy swells can dislodge the traps that have been set and send them adrift. As these traps are carried by currents, they can entangle marine organisms, release microplastics, and pose safety hazards to vessels. When they wash up on shore as debris, they can also be dangerous to beachgoers and wildlife. 

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife reports that approximately 6,500 traps are reported lost off the California coast each fishing season. Without regular cleanups, dozens of traps can accumulate on certain beaches and pile up over time.


On Saturday, volunteers used shovels and bolt cutters to pry buried traps out of the rocks and sand at Black Rock Beach in Goleta.

In 2021 Channelkeeper leveraged its Watershed Brigade community cleanup program and its volunteers to survey local beaches, helping to locate and report derelict traps to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Thanks to this community effort, the organization discovered a high concentration of traps that had accumulated near Black Rock Beach, close to a heavily fished area below More Mesa. After the 2022 lobster season ended on March 16th, the organization began planning with local fishermen to clear derelict traps from the beach.

During Saturday’s cleanup, volunteers used shovels and bolt cutters to pry buried traps out of the rocks and sand. The heavy, metal-framed traps were clipped onto a buoyed rope and winched through the surf to the Bella B, a commercial fishing vessel owned by local fisherman, Chris Voss. 


The traps were clipped onto a buoyed rope and winched through the surf to the Bella B, a commercial fishing vessel 

Kim Selkoe, Executive Director of Commercial Fishermen of Santa Barbara, participated in the event and ferried the buoy line back and forth from boat to shore by kayak along with volunteer Mark Matthews. Chris Voss, Ava Schulenberg, and Santa Barbara Harbor Commissioner Mike Nelson loaded the traps onboard the Bella B and transported them to Santa Barbara Harbor for recovery or proper disposal.

“We’re grateful for this opportunity to partner with our local fishing community,” said Benjamin Pitterle, Channelkeeper’s Science and Policy Director. “We also appreciate the dedicated work of volunteers, many of whom were UCSB students, who labored to clear the traps. By working together today, we were able to remove more than a thousand of pounds of derelict fishing gear that would otherwise have persisted on the beach for years.”

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Minibeast May 25, 2022 05:56 PM
Volunteers Clear Lobster Traps from Black Rock Beach

What a terrific accomplishment, you guys. Those group photos are awesome. All that happy healthy energy. Thank you so much for working so hard and cleaning up our beaches.

Harbor_Seal May 26, 2022 12:00 AM
Volunteers Clear Lobster Traps from Black Rock Beach

Thank you Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, volunteers and commercial lobsterman Chris Voss!!

50 volunteers is an impressive force, but one can't help to wonder with so many Commercial Lobstermen operating out of Santa Barbara Harbor why is it Chris seems to be the only one contributing his time and equipment to cleaning commercial lobster gear off our beaches??

Evidently volunteers found over 90 commercial lobster traps abandoned on this particular small stretch of the California Coastline, yet only one commercial lobsterman's boat assisted volunteers cleaning up the mess left behind by MANY Commercial Lobstermen, who profited off placing these traps in our ocean. Its time for the Commercial Lobstermen to clean up their messes, not volunteers!

Almost every time I dive off the coast of Southern California I encounter derelict/lost commercial lobster traps, many still trapping sea creatures long after the season has ended... this includes the waters off the Channel Islands National Park.

Homework: if 6,500 commercial lobster traps are lost off the coast of California each year and each commercial lobster trap has, on average, 75-feet of 1/2 inch plastic rope line with attached buoy, how many miles of plastic 1/2 inch rope is lost off our coast by commercial lobster fishing alone each year?

Extra Credit: If the average plastic drinking straw weighs 0.15 oz, what is the equivalent of these miles of rope lost in our ocean terms of number of drinking straws? (Assume the buoy is captured by the pacific garbage patch and somehow negligible in its contribution to oceanic micro-plastics.)

Answers: About 92 miles of 1/2 plastic rope is lost with these traps EACH year, enough to connect Goleta Pier to Santa Monica Pier. Whale entanglements anyone? The equivalent weight in rope of over a ONE MILLION plastic drinking straws are lost off the coast of California each year by the Commercial Lobster Fishermen.

Its time for some serious changes to the careless and polluting ways of the California Commercial Lobster Industry.

Minibeast May 26, 2022 02:14 PM
Volunteers Clear Lobster Traps from Black Rock Beach

HARBOR SEAL. ***Thank you so much*** for putting this information together and educating us. (I wish you'd write an Op-Ed piece on this subject and submit it here and to The Indie.) ----- For years, while on my beach walks, I have carried a nice sharp knife and spent time hacking plastic rope off "stranded" lobster traps. When I can, I remove the plastic bait containers, too. Then I dump all the plastic right into the trash, always hoping doing I was keeping at least some plastic out of the ocean. Hoping maybe to prevent any critters from getting tangled up, too.

Harbor_Seal May 26, 2022 01:27 PM
Volunteers Clear Lobster Traps from Black Rock Beach

The number of "...and members of the commercial fishing community..." who participate is exceedingly small (<10% on average in the cleanup crews) compared to the number of local commercial lobstermen profiting from dropping these traps in our ocean.

AQUAHOLIC May 26, 2022 01:38 PM
Volunteers Clear Lobster Traps from Black Rock Beach

Thank you sincerely, to all the volunteers and one? lobster fisherman who showed up, to clean up the mess. I have to concur with Harbor Seal, and wonder too why more commercial fisherman are seemingly not very responsible when it comes to retrieving their errant traps. From the 1980's to yesterday, I've been walking our local beaches from Carp to Gaviota and have wondered about all the lobster traps I see, some of them stuck in time and place for YEARS. I've chatted up a Lobster fisherman or two, so I know the traps are not inexpensive.... so why the disregard for the ones that go missing?
I wonder, is it possible/required to make the traps identifiable to the fisherman who own them?....thus making them take responsibility for picking up the errant ones?

Harbor_Seal May 26, 2022 11:00 PM
Volunteers Clear Lobster Traps from Black Rock Beach

Starting in 2017 each commercial lobster trap in California is required to have a current season tag attached, the tag contains: the Lobster Operator Permit number, the trap number and the season number. Additionally the attached buoys also have the Lobster Operator Permit number engraved visibly in large font. In theory this could help get the lobsterman to go collect his traps, but when there are over 50 traps washed up on a mile stretch of our beach which sit there for months or years one has to wonder why the commercial lobster fishermen don't recover them?

When the traps wash on to the beach they should have this tag attached, walk by a few days later and you will often notice this tag is missing and the trap remains. On more than one occasion I have observed someone removing these tags from the traps washed on the beach. On one occasion I asked what the person was doing, when they fumbled their response, I asked if they were pulling the tags because they were a fisherman, they said "yes". Another time I was told to mind my business.

I've been told these commercial traps are designed to fall apart after a year... my personal observation have found a significant variance, this past season while scuba diving I found more than one commercial trap, covered in growth with no identification tag or float attached, I suspect it is possible they were from prior to 2017 season when tags became required. Construction of the traps often include a zinc anode (to reduce effect of iron rusting), stainless steel clips (to hold the sides together) and mesh wiring over-coated with plastic; these lost traps can continue "ghost trapping" for years.

Minibeast May 27, 2022 12:35 AM
Volunteers Clear Lobster Traps from Black Rock Beach

HARBOR SEAL: Please write an exposé on this for Santa Barbara Independent and Noozhawk. People should be told about this. It's unconscionable that lobster fishermen are allowed to get away with littering our beaches in this way, with zero consequences. And "ghost-trapping" is horrifying and villainous. Shudder. Poor sea critters, to die so miserably. //////// I find buoys on the beaches every once in a while, too. More litter for which fishermen must be held responsible.

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