OCEAN ‘RODEO’ REMOVES DEBRIS, NOT FISH, FROM KEYS WATERS
The Ghost Trap Rodeo, sponsored by the nonprofit OceanAid360, returns to Key West May 24-26, when six or so local charter captains will get paid to spend three days on the water hauling not fish, but marine debris, from the ocean.
Ocean Aid 360’s Ghost Trap Rodeo took place in Key West Feb. 22-24 and returns May 24-26. The February event removed more than 6,000 pounds of ghost traps, trap line and other marine debris from the ocean and local shorelines.
Ghost traps are abandoned stone crab or lobster traps that are lost when their floating buoy marker is dislodged from the trap and the owner can no longer locate it due to a storm or a boat propeller cutting the trap line.
Such traps continue to catch and kill marine life despite no longer being checked by an angler (called ghost fishing). They endanger vessels and marine mammals that may tangle in the gear.
Animals die in the trap and then become the bait for the next batch of doomed fish.
“This was our first Ghost Trap Rodeo in Key West and on Day 1, our six captains hauled in 34 ghost traps and more than 1,000 yards of ghost line that could get caught in props or around a turtle or manatee,” said Capt. Neill Holland, who created the rodeos in 2017 with his partner Danielle Dawley. The first one took place in Tampa Bay. “By Day 2 (in February), our Key West total was over 6,800 pounds of line and debris and a whopping 88 traps.”
The events now take place throughout Florida and are funded through grants from NOAA’s Marine Debris Program, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the angler-led nonprofit Grassy Creek Foundation, which provides the funding to pay each participating charter captain $500 per four-hour day. Foundation founder Chad Pike wanted to provide financial help for local captains during the pandemic struggle while also supporting the rodeo cleanup, Holland said.
Since its inception, Ocean Aid 360’s Ghost Trap Rodeos have collected 45,000 pounds of marine debris and more than 750 ghost traps, said Holland and Dawley.
In addition to their daily pay, participating captains — being the competitive bunch that they are — compete for $4,000 in prizes donated by tackle and gear companies to see which boat brings in the biggest haul.
On Sunday, May 23, a captains’ meeting and briefing by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) officials will ensure that participating captains are able to properly recognize ghost traps and prevent active traps from being disturbed.
The rodeo is permitted by FWC and Monroe County, and event staff provides supplies needed to participate, including gloves, blankets and/or tarps (to safeguard their boats), tin snips, boat hooks and dip nets.
Rodeo organizers have a few remaining slots for paid charter captains, volunteer boats and individual volunteers who will be paired with boats to help. Captains and volunteers are eligible to win prizes. Each captain and volunteer must register with Danielle Dawley by calling 512-944-5882.
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