Turtle Excluder Program Offered In Coastal Bays

WEST OCEAN CITY – Efforts to distribute free turtle excluders will begin this month as part of a new program from the Maryland Coastal Bays Program.

This month, the Maryland Coastal Bays Program (MCBP) will launch a turtle excluder program, providing turtle excluders – also known as by-catch reduction devices – to residents and visitors free of charge.

A component of the organization’s marine debris program, the distribution of turtle excluders is expected to protect the turtle population from crab pots found in local waterways.

“We acquired 100, and we will be getting 100 more, so we are going to be launching a campaign hopefully the end of this week or early next week,” MCBP Marketing and Development Coordinator Sandi Smith said in an Ocean City Green Team meeting last week. “We’re giving them to people for free.”

Smith said turtle excluders are required for all recreational crab pots in Maryland. She noted, however, that crab pots are not sold with excluders and that many people are not aware that it is state law.

“Most people don’t understand that crab pots attract terrapins, and that they are required to have these on,” she said.

Smith noted that a few years ago, a recreational boater pulled a crab pot with 30 dead terrapins trapped inside.

“We’re going to launch this program again,” she said. “It’s a little late in the year, but better late than never.”

With funding from the Environmental Protection Agency, the organization reports by-catch reduction devices will be available at no cost through the turtle excluder program by the end of the month.

Smith added that volunteers will also go out to retail stores and offer to add excluders to recreational crab pots.

“We’re creating a program to offer those excluders for retailers that sell the pots because recreational crab pots are required for recreational crabbing … but the retailers don’t sell them with them on it because they aren’t required to sell them.”

The turtle excluder initiative is just one component of MCBP’s marine debris program.

Since 2009, for example, MCBP has worked on programs to hire watermen to retrieve abandoned crab pots, which have a tendency to capture and trap by-catch such as terrapins, ducks, otters and more.

And in 2019, the program received funding to coordinate a “Ghost Pot Rodeo,” a community initiative to educate residents on abandoned pots and encourage them to participate in a retrieval program.

The rodeo has since morphed into an annual Marine Debris Plunder event, in which volunteers traverse by land and sea to collect debris from the watershed.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.