Thousands of fishing traps are lost or abandoned each year in the United States, and this type of "ghost fishing" is posing a real problem for marine life, according to a new NOAA-led study.

These derelict traps, as they're called, continue to catch fish, crabs, and other species such as turtles. Not only do they threaten marine life, but these traps also result in losses to habitat, fisheries, and the watermen who depend on the resources - losses that are largely preventable, researchers say.

"People may not realize that derelict traps can catch not just the target species of the fishery, but also other animals including threatened and endangered species where populations are already very low. Derelict traps can also harm sensitive habitats like coral reefs and salt marsh so they have a bigger impact than might be anticipated," co-author Ariana Sutton-Grier, from NOAA's National Ocean Service, explained in a statement.

The report looked at the results of seven NOAA-funded studies in different fisheries across the United States. They include the Dungeness crab fisheries in Alaska and Puget Sound; the blue crab fisheries in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina; the spiny lobster fishery in Florida; and the coral reef fish fishery in the US Virgin Islands.

Researchers found that derelict traps - referred to as "ghost fishing" when it accidentally catches marine life - were in every single site, with average numbers ranging from five to 47 traps per square kilometer. Also, between five and 40 percent of all the derelict traps examined showed evidence of ghost fishing, . and it occurred for longer periods of time than NOAA scientists previously thought.

"Marine debris is a continued threat to resilient ecosystems and navigation safety, and by working together we can find better solutions to keep coastal communities, economies and ecosystems healthy," added co-author Holly Bamford.

Researchers concluded that derelict traps have a cumulative, measurable impact which should be considered in fishery management decisions. After identifying key gaps in management of these traps, they suggest that officials find effective policy solutions to manage, reduce, and prevent gear loss to put a stop to this overlooked problem.

The findings were published in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin.