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OPINION

'Ghost Trap Rodeo' lassos marine debris

David Adlerstein
The Apalachicola Times

The eyes of Carrabelle’s Fishy Fashion Show, an annual event showcasing outfits made from reclaimed marine debris, would have opened wide as claws had they seen the haul brought in earlier this month to Apalachicola’s Battery Park.

The kickoff event for the 2021-22 Ghost Trap Rodeo series, a search-and-rubbish marine disposal effort organized by a St. Petersburg-based non-profit, brought into Battery Park on Jan. 9 about 5,000 pounds of trash collected from in and around Apalachicola Bay.

Capt. Neill Holland awards prizes to the winners, behind a giant pile of marine debris.
Clay Bailey, with the winning Pegasus team, stands with one of the largest items from the rodeo.
The organizers of Ocean Aid 360's Ghost Trap Rodeo Event Series pose with the take from the Jan. 9 kickoff in Apalachicola.

It was the largest single-day haul for the rodeo, which originated in Tampa Bay in 2018-19, and in the seven rodeos since then has accumulated about 26,400 pounds of trash.

After being encouraged by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials to expand the effort into the Panhandle, this year the organizers, Ocean Aid 360, Inc., secured a $120,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to bring together a diverse group of users, including commercial and recreational anglers and boaters, in an effort to “improve and secure the health of vulnerable marine, coastal, wetland, and inland waterway habitats.”

They also have matching contributions from local business owners who as sponsors share the commitment to the watershed.

Assisted by Jo Pearman, a St. George Island resident who has long championed the cleanup of marine areas, Capt. Neill Holland, an inshore charter fishing captain, and president of Ocean Aid, and fellow staffers scouted out how best to conduct the rodeo here in Franklin County.

“She’s one of our greatest assets,” he said. “She showed us stretches of shoreline where walkers could be most useful.”

The organizers also worked closely with County Commissioner Ricky Jones, Apalachicola City Manager Travis Wade, Tourist Development County Director John Solomon, and Oyster Boss aquaculture businessman Jeff Tilley on the event.

The Apalachicola rodeo was the opener in a series that continues July 17 at St. Pete; July 24 at Homosassa; Jan. 22, 2022 at Jacksonville, March 21, 2022 at Tampa and Aug. 13, 2022 at Cocoa Beach.

The angler-led restoration project, which is helped in its design by the Coastal Conservation Association, “is built on the belief that shallow water anglers – tailing redfish stalkers, mullet net assassins, beachfront pass crab casters, and mangrove snook pluggers – know their local waters as well or better than anyone,” reads the website.

“The Ghost Trap Rodeo is an opportunity to show what you know, to find and remove derelict crab traps, which catch and kill unchecked, and other forms of marine debris that negatively impact our fishery,” it reads.

Participating teams were Boss Babes, Boaty McBoatface, Hill21, The Lakeys, Trap Queens, Falstead Finders, Tripletails, Gulf World Marine, Apalachicola Riverkeeper, Forgotten Trashpandas, Pegasus, Ringlever, Three Dog Pack, and Team Fishin’ Trip.

Coming in first with 41 ghost traps found; winning a 55-inch plasma TV and 30-quart Engle Cooler, was Pegasus, captained by Larry Covell, owner of Apalachicola Airboat Adventures, along with Clay Bailey. Tripletails took second and Team Fishin’ Trip took third.

Holland said that overall, 78 derelict “Ghost” traps were collected over the four hours on Saturday morning, and combined with the non-trap debris, amounted to 5,008 pounds.

In addition to Gulf World Marine and the CCA, a booth was set up by Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge to share information on their organization

He said all volunteers are offered training in how to detect a derelict trap before they are turned loose in the rodeo.

By the way, even if the Fishy Fashion Show had planned to pore over the pickings for possible use in their stylish couture, they would have had to act fast.

The group loaded up all the detritus on a trailer soon after the event ended, and trucked it back to Tampa Bay, where they have a contract with a recycler who is expected to handle half the accumulated debris.