The Ghost Trap Rodeo: Competitions to Find and Remove Ghost Fishing Gear and Marine Debris from the Tampa Bay Estuary

Man pulling derelict trap into a boat.
Capt. Neill Holland, Ocean Aid 360, uses his shallow draft charter boat to remove a derelict blue crab trap from Bayboro Harbor, St. Petersburg, FL (Photo Credit: Scott Martin of ScottMartinImages.com)
Tagged traps on the shore.
In the first event over 1,400 pounds of derelict crab traps and other forms of marine debris were removed. (Photo Credit: NOAA)
Tent at the first Ghost Trap Rodeo.
37 boaters, anglers, and industry representatives from the local community participated in the first event (Photo Credit: NOAA)
A group of people on a boat.
The first event was held in October of 2018 at Fort De Soto Park, FL (Photo Credit: Ocean Aid 360)
A boat full of derelict fishing gear.
A total of ten vessels competed in the first Ghost Trap Rodeo event (Photo Credit: Ocean Aid 360)

Ocean Aid 360 and Coastal Conservation Association Florida will conduct awareness campaigns and a Ghost Trap Rodeo event series. These rodeos will include at least six weekend-long marine debris removal competitions in Florida’s Tampa Bay estuary. Following the removal activities, Ocean Aid 360 and event participants will collect data on the species removed from the crab traps and fishing gear.

Type of Project: Community-based Marine Debris Removal Grant

Region: Florida and Caribbean

Project Dates: August 2018 – July 2019

Who is involved?
With the support of a NOAA Marine Debris Program Community-based Marine Debris Removal Grant, Ocean Aid 360, in partnership with the Coastal Conservation Association Florida, will mobilize a diverse group of boaters, anglers, and industry members to detect and remove 15,000 pounds of derelict crab traps and other fishing gear from Florida’s Tampa Bay estuary. To accomplish this goal, they will conduct awareness campaigns and a Ghost Trap Rodeo event series comprised of at least six weekend-long marine debris removal competitions. The Ghost Trap Rodeo events are organized like shallow water fishing tournaments, but instead of weighing in fish, event participants will be weighing in abandoned crab traps, fishing gear, and other forms of marine debris.

What is the project and why is it important?
In Florida, hundreds of thousands of crab and lobster traps are fished annually. Tampa Bay is home to a vibrant crab fishery, for both stone crabs and blue crabs. Both recreational and commercial participants experience occasional trap losses due to a variety of potential factors including intentional abandonment, storms or severe weather, entanglement with other fishing gear, or buoy lines cut by passing boats. Once left in the environment, derelict traps can continue to capture marine animals—a phenomenon called ‘ghost fishing.’ Today, best estimates put Tampa Bay's number of active ghost traps somewhere near 10,000 traps. By continuing to entrap and entangle both target and non-target species, derelict crab traps can cause economic losses for fishermen and harm to Tampa Bay’s natural resources.

The Ghost Trap Rodeo event series is an opportunity for knowledgeable local anglers and boaters to come together and launch their vessels and paddle-craft in search of these ghost traps and other types of marine debris. During removal events, participants will become citizen scientists by collecting data on the species removed from the derelict crab traps and fishing gear. At the end of each event, the anglers and boaters that remove the most debris will have a chance at winning great industry sponsored prizes. The Ghost Trap Rodeo is inspired by the belief that local anglers and boaters know their local waters, and are well suited to locate and remove derelict traps and fishing gear, ultimately contributing to the conservation of a waterbody they depend on.

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Tagged traps on the shore.
In the first event over 1,400 pounds of derelict crab traps and other forms of marine debris were removed. (Photo Credit: NOAA)
Tent at the first Ghost Trap Rodeo.
37 boaters, anglers, and industry representatives from the local community participated in the first event (Photo Credit: NOAA)
A group of people on a boat.
The first event was held in October of 2018 at Fort De Soto Park, FL (Photo Credit: Ocean Aid 360)
A boat full of derelict fishing gear.
A total of ten vessels competed in the first Ghost Trap Rodeo event (Photo Credit: Ocean Aid 360)