ST. PETERSBURG, fl. – Tampa Bay has some of the most beautiful waterways in the world, but lurking just below the surface is an ugly phenomenon that kills and maims thousands of fish and marine life every year. It is known as “ghost gear”, which is lost or abandoned crab and lobster traps or fishing gear that continues to degrade the environment.
The problem is not unique to Tampa Bay. Ghost gear is found in waterways around the world, and this week conservationists hope to shed some light on the issue and inspire people to help clean up their local waterways.
It’s a problem that Saint Petersburg-born Captain Neill Holland set his sights on four years ago when he founded Ocean Aid 360 and staged the first Ghost Gear Rodeo to clean up Tampa Bay’s waterways.
“This problem is really big,” Holland said. “Each season, a significant amount of fishing tackle and gear is lost due to passing storms or boats that run over gear and cut the buoy.”
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In their first year, the Netherlands said the tournaments raised more than £30,000 worth of crab traps and other abandoned fishing gear. Since then, he has hosted dozens of Ghost Gear Rodeos in Florida thanks to a partnership with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and NOAA.
The cleanup events now take place all year round and have become more and more popular and powerful. At a recent Ghost Gear Rodeo in Key West, participants took in over 35,000 pounds of dilapidated traps, fishing gear and debris.
“Just a single trap that surfaced had 26 adult crawfish trapped in it,” Holland said. “When you consider that on that same day 822 others were brought to the surface just like that with varying amounts of marine life in them. Literally thousands of specimens of commercially viable crawfish and rock crabs that were left for dead. We had a great opportunity to release them and this landing traps so they are out of the watershed and can no longer contribute to ghost fishing.”
The dramatic rescue of a baby dolphin in Clearwater Beach in July highlighted the ghost gear problem for many. The dolphin, now recovering at Sea World in Orlando, became entangled in a dilapidated crab trap.
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Holland said it’s an important reminder of how harmful ghost gear is.
Since 2018, Ocean Aid 360’s Ghost Gear Rodeos have pulled more than 130,000 pounds of traps and other marine debris from Florida’s waterways. Their next event is on the Indian River in Titusville later this month. A Tampa Bay Ghost Gear Rodeo is scheduled for October.
Visit https://myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/trap-debris/ and https://www.oceanaid360.org/ to learn more about how you can get involved in cleaning up ghost gear.