The diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin) is the only species of turtle in North America that spends its life in brackish water. Terrapins are prominent in Atlantic and Gulf Coast marshes, estuaries, and tidal creeks, including those on both the Chesapeake and Atlantic sides of the Eastern Shore of Virginia.
Decreasing habitat and other factors has adversely impacted terrapin populations. Incidental drowning in crab pots is one of the most significant factors, since these animals are attracted to the same food (i.e. small dead fish) used in crab pots to attract crabs. Unlike crabs, turtles must periodically rise to the surface to breathe air and, once inside the crab pot, usually do not find their way out, which causes them to drown.
The Virginia Eastern Shore Shorekeeper is promoting the use of devices to help protect diamondback terrapins from drowning in crab pots. We urge recreational crabbers, and others who fish for crabs in shallow marshes and creeks that are home to terrapins, to attach a Turtle Exclusion Device (TED), also known as a Bycatch Reduction Device (BRD), to their crab pots.
Recreational crabbers in Maryland, where the diamondback terrapin has been the state reptile since 1994, are required by law to use these devices. Recreational crabbers in Virginia are not required to use these devices at the present time, but the Shorekeeper is urging people to do so voluntarily to minimize incidents of unintentionally catching and drowning turtles.
Fastening TEDs To A Pot
Turtle excluders are rigid rectangular plastic or wire devices that are fixed to the entrances of a crab pot and which narrow those entrances enough to prevent turtles from getting their shells through the opening while still allowing crabs to enter. They may be placed on new pots by the crab pot maker (especially if you buy a crab pot made in Maryland), or placed on them afterward. Most crab pots made on the Eastern Shore of Virginia do not have a turtle excluder on them, and need to be outfitted with them by the crab pot owner. This is easy to do.
While an excluder can be made out of a 15-inch length of 11-gauge galvanized wire, and affixed to the pot using hog rings, it may be easier for most people to buy a pre-manufactured plastic excluder. The opening for these measures 1 ¾ by 4 ¾ inches. You’ll need four TEDs per pot (one per entrance), and four plastic cable ties for each excluder. The excluder should be positioned at the back (narrow end) of each pot entrance and each corner of the excluder should be fixed to the pot securely.
Where To Find TEDs
To encourage the use of TEDs, the Virginia Eastern Shore Shorekeeper sells a pack of four, with sixteen cable ties and instructions, for $6. These can be obtained at the offices of Citizens for a Better Eastern Shore in Eastville.
Our TEDs (the orange ones pictured) may also be obtained from the following local retail sources:
Eastern Shore Community Services Board Vocational Center, Exmore
Southeast Expeditions, Onancock & Chincoteague
Machipongo Clam Shack, Machipongo
Watson’s Hardware, Cape Charles
Chris Bait & Tackle, Cape Charles
Capt. Steve’s Bait and Tackle, Chincoteague
Capt. Zed’s Bait & Tackle, Wachapreague
VES appreciates the willingness of the above merchants to stock and display the VES packet of TEDs. Elsewhere, the same or different TEDs can be found at Eastern Marine in Newark, DE, and at Eddie Heath’s Crab Pot & Supply Company in Crisfield, MD.
Do TEDs Also Exclude Crabs Or Reduce Crab Catches?
It is natural to be concerned with the question of whether a narrowed opening to your crab pot will decrease the number and/or size of the crabs that you catch. One of our directors has been experimenting here on the Eastern Shore with a TED-equipped crab pot and a non TED-equipped crab pot, placed in the same waterbody and relatively near each other. He’s caught virtually as many crabs in the TED-equipped pot as in the non-TED-equipped pot. Furthermore, the TED-equipped pot has been very effective at catching large crabs, including egg-laden female, or sponge, crabs. (Incidentally, we recommend releasing female crabs to help ensure good crab populations.) He has yet to catch a turtle in the TED-equipped pot.
We feel confident in saying that if you fasten TEDs properly to the pot, the main thing you need to be concerned about is where you place your pot and what you bait it with, not whether use of excluders will diminish your crab catch.
Some Final Advice
You may need to pay attention, however, to the weight of your TED-equipped pot. Plastic TEDs add a little more buoyancy and current obstruction that may help a light crab pot (one with smaller diameter rebar on the bottom) tip and roll if placed where current is strong. If this happens, you need to add more weight to the bottom of the pot. A properly weighted crab pot should not tip over or roll, even with a load of captured crabs in the upper chamber. It’s a good idea to check your pots frequently, and not leave them unattended for a long period.
The Wetlands Institute, www.terrapinconservation.org
The National Aquarium, www.aqua.org/animals_diamondbackterrapin.html
Chesapeake Terrapin Alliance, www.cterrapin.org
The Terrapin Institute, www.terrapininstitute.org