Skip to main content

Master of Environmental Science and Management: Master's Group Project

Assessing Lost Gear Removals in Southern California by a Nonprofit

Ocean sunset, with the sun just on the horizon.  The sky is a dark blue, while the sunset is shades of yellow and orange.

Group Members: Sarah Lam, Logan Ossentjuk, Meghna Rao, Cristina Robinson, Abigail Sanford

Faculty Advisors: Steve Gaines

Client: Ocean Defenders Alliance



Final Report

Executive Summary

Final Presentation


This project aims to evaluate the impact of derelict fishing gear on the marine ecosystem, fishing communities, and the economy in Southern California through a case study centered on the commercial California spiny lobster fishery. Data on ghost fishing and marine wildlife entanglements were analyzed alongside data from marine debris removal expeditions. We found that derelict spiny lobster trap gear does not pose a large threat of entanglement to migrating whales. Furthermore the largest impact from derelict gear is likely ghost fishing, which can result in significant profit losses to the spiny lobster fishery. Our analysis suggests that up to 12,000 pounds of spiny lobster (equivalent to 8,000 lobsters) are potentially ghost fished each year, based on the average number of traps lost in the spiny lobster fishery in a year and our estimated ghost fishing rate of 2.19 lobsters per trap. Trap loss, and subsequent ghost fishing by derelict gear, can cause spiny lobster fishers to lose anywhere from $216,122–$726,280 USD in annual profits. Additionally, we distributed surveys to gather information from recreational and commercial fishers along the coast on how gear loss affects their livelihoods. Our survey results indicate that fishers are willing to collaborate with nonprofits like ODA to mitigate the negative impacts of derelict fishing gear on the environment and their livelihoods. Further, the collated survey responses and environmental data were used to identify "gear loss hot spots'' to improve gear retrieval efficiency. Lastly, our study provided recommendations and outreach materials to ODA to support its mission of a debris-free sea in Southern California and to bolster volunteer participation and grow funding opportunities.


The authors of this report would like to sincerely extend our gratitude and thanks to the following individuals and organizations who contributed their guidance and support throughout the duration of our project:

Bren School: Yutian Fang, PhD; Chris Free, Research Faculty; Dr. Steve Gaines, Dean     

NOAA Fisheries: Justin Greenman, California Assistant Stranding Coordinator; Sean Hastings, Resource Protection Coordinator; Lauren Saez,  Fishery Biologist; Justin Viezbicke, California Stranding Coordinator 

Chris Lowe, Professor, California State University, Long Beach

William Cooper – Professor Emeritus, UC Irvine

Dan Nattrass

Ava Schulenberg

Kim Selko PhD

Nick Trujillo

Ocean Defenders Alliance

Professional Environmental Management Association

Antônia Schnitzler - Winter Intern

Hayden Vega - Summer Intern

arrow up icon