BTT Teams Up with Keys Fishing Guide Diego Rouylle to Remove Ghost Traps

Photo by Diego Rouylle.

The Florida Keys have long been recognized as a premier destination for catching bonefish, tarpon, and permit. Clear waters, healthy seagrass meadows, and an abundance of sponges and corals in shallow waters support the fishery. But the Keys’ idyllic flats are also littered with a staggering number of Styrofoam balls tethered to lost lobster and crab traps. These traps degrade flats as they are dragged about during storms, scarring the bottom. They are also a source of stress for guides, who lose catches when their clients’ lines are cut by the traps’ sharp surfaces.

Photo by Dr. Ross Boucek.

Diego Rouylle, a guide based out of the Lower Keys, decided to take action to rid the flats of these “ghost traps.” Temporarily setting aside his life as a full-time guide, Diego applied for and was awarded a grant to collect traps lost during Hurricane Irma. The project is funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and was facilitated and authorized by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

Photo by Dr. Ross Boucek.

“This is an amazing partnership between our fisheries management agencies and the angler and guide community to protect and improve habitats,” said Dr. Ross Boucek, Bonefish & Tarpon Trust’s Florida Keys Initiative Manager. “I can’t wait to see more collaborations like this come online in the future.”

Dr. Boucek recently assisted Diego with his project. Removing these traps requires local expertise and a specialized vessel to pick up trap debris while not damaging the delicate flats habitat. Diego, who has fished the Keys’ flats for over 20 years, built an industrial work boat from a Carolina skiff and takes great care not to cause further damage to the marine environment.

Photo by Dr. Ross Boucek.

In one day, Ross, Diego, and his team removed 1.5 tons of lobster and crab traps from a single flat. Over the course of six weeks, Diego and his team have managed to remove over 47 tons of lost traps. While this is an incredible feat, the crew has only cleaned a small area, underscoring the magnitude of the pollution.

As habitats are degraded, the capacity for an ecosystem to support a productive fishery significantly declines. Habitat degradation is all too evident in the Keys, where lost lobster and crab traps are just one of many sources of stress affecting the flats. If we want our fisheries to improve, we all must pitch in to protect the existing habitats and support restoration of those in decline.

Photo by Dr. Ross Boucek.

“Diego is one of the handful of guides who have taken the extra step to make our fisheries and their habitats better,” said Dr. Boucek.“We need more concerned guides like Diego to get involved.”

One way you can get involved right now is by contacting FWC to advocate for the inclusion of habitat protection and restoration in fisheries management plans. If FWC hears that protecting habitats is important to you, it will be more inclined to fund projects like Diego’s in the future. Committing to the protection and restoration of flats habitats is the only way to maintain Florida’s world-class fisheries. Such a commitment will require the full support of anglers, guides, business owners, and other stakeholders.