Plastics: fighting off the manmade invasive species

ROSEMARY BEACH – Students from The Ohana Institute created this lionfish sculpture out of plastic debris collected from Gulf waters, the beach, and surrounding areas. The goal of the sculpture, titled “Invasive,” is to raise awareness of the problem of single-use plastic products. “Like the Lionfish, plastics are also invasive in our ocean environment, jeopardizing marine life and our own health,” reported a nearby sign. 

To help stop the invasion of single-use plastics, they offer the following five tips:

1. Use your own refillable water bottle.

2. Decline the plastic straw.

3. Shop with cloth or reusable bags; refuse the plastic ones.

4. Take your own reusable cup to the coffee shop.

5. Commit to reducing, reusing, and refusing single-use plastics.

The installation is part of the Washed Ashore organization, a national artistic movement calling attention to trash in our oceans.

Titled “Invasive,” this sculpture made from debris aims to raise awareness of the problem of single-use plastic.

Titled “Invasive,” this sculpture made from debris aims to raise awareness of the problem of single-use plastic.



Yield: 2 servings

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 18 minutes


1 pound golden tilefish fillets

1 tablespoon olive oil

Sea salt 

Fresh ground black pepper to taste


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Rinse the fish in cold water and pat dry with paper towels. 

Place fish in a baking pan with a little water in the pan, then drizzle the fish with olive oil and add sea salt and fresh ground pepper.

Roast in the oven for about 18 minutes or until fish is firm to the touch.


The Conservation Technical Assistance Program assists landowners with obtaining soil data, aerial photos, potential cost-share programs, and host other activities on agricultural land.

The Conservation Technical Assistance Program assists landowners with obtaining soil data, aerial photos, potential cost-share programs, and host other activities on agricultural land.

Landowners get conservation assistance

The Natural Resources Conservation Service is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s principal agency for providing conservation technical assistance to landowners, conservation districts, tribes, and other organizations.

NRCS delivers assistance through its voluntary Conservation Technical Assistance Program, which is available to any group or individual interested in conserving our natural resources and sustaining agricultural production in each county.

In Okaloosa and surrounding counties, we work with anyone who walks in our door. We assist with obtaining soil data, aerial photos, potential cost-share programs, and host other activities on agricultural land. We even work with our coastal landowners, making recommendations for erosion control plants on urban land.

The CTA program functions through a national network of locally-based, professional conservationists located in nearly every county of the United States.

What is Conservation Technical Assistance?

Conservation technical assistance is the help NRCS and its partners provide to land users to address opportunities, concerns, and problems related to the use of natural resources and to help land users make sound natural resource management decisions on private, tribal, and other non-federal lands. This assistance can help land users:

• Maintain and improve private lands and their management

• Implement better land management technologies

• Protect and improve water quality and quantity

• Maintain and improve wildlife and fish habitat

• Enhance recreational opportunities on their land

• Maintain and improve the aesthetic character of private land

• Explore opportunities to diversify agricultural operations

• Develop and apply sustainable agricultural systems

This assistance may be in the form of resource assessment, practice design, resource monitoring, or follow-up of installed practices.

Although the CTA program does not include financial or cost-share assistance, clients may develop conservation plans, which may serve as a springboard for those interested in participating in USDA financial assistance programs. CTA planning can also serve as a door to financial assistance and easement conservation programs provided by other federal, state, and local programs.

 Who Needs CTA?

NRCS and its partners use the CTA program to provide technical assistance to:

• Farmers

• Ranchers

• Local units of government

• Citizen groups

• Recreation groups

• Tribal governments

• Professional consultants

• State and federal agencies

• Others interested in conserving natural resources

This voluntary program is delivered to private individuals, groups of decision-makers, tribes, units of governments, and non-governmental organizations in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of Palau, and the Marshall Islands.

All owners, managers, and others who have a stake and interest in natural resource management are eligible to receive technical assistance from NRCS.

The working relationships that landowners and communities have with their local NRCS staff are unique. One-on-one help through flexible, voluntary programs occurs every day in local NRCS offices across the country. It is the way NRCS does business, and it works. To obtain conservation technical assistance, contact your local NRCS office.



Each issue we share Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Law Enforcement Reports for Northwest Florida. This article originally appeared in our May/June 2019 issue.


MORE THAN A FISH FOLLY – Officer Ramos saw several vehicles parked near an interstate bridge. He located three people who unlawfully went around a fence designed to prevent trespassing and were fishing at the seawall. When Ramos greeted the three subjects, he discovered a red drum that appeared to be undersized, still alive and on a stringer. None of the subjects would admit the fish was theirs, and two of the persons could not readily provide proof of a fishing license. After checking with dispatch, Ramos determined one of the men had an active warrant. The three subjects were escorted back to their vehicles and the man with the warrant was placed under arrest. The same man admitted he caught the red drum. Ramos measured the fish and determined it was undersized. A custodial search of the man under arrest revealed that he had methamphetamine in his pocket. The subject was transported to jail for the warrant and was also cited for the illegal drugs.

SHINING A LIGHT ON CRIME – Officer Ramos saw a vehicle shining a spotlight in Blackwater Wildlife Management Area in a manner capable of disclosing the presence of deer. After following the vehicle for a short time, he conducted a traffic stop to determine if the subjects were attempting to take deer at night. As Ramos approached the vehicle, the strong odor of cannabis emanated from the driver side window. While speaking with the subjects, Ramos saw a bag of cannabis in plain sight. An interview with the subjects led to the seizure of nearly 13 grams of cannabis, two grinders, and six smoking devices with cannabis residue. The subjects were issued citations.


NOT TODAY, BOYS – Officer Specialist Pifer was on land patrol conducting resource protection on the Eglin Wildlife Management Area in the Sikes Unit. Due to military training that day, Eglin closed this area. All subjects are required to access the Eglin daily closure map before going hunting. Pifer saw a group in the closed area. Further, the officer heard barking consistent with hunting dogs in pursuit of wildlife. Pifer drove further down the road and saw a subject wearing an orange vest retrieving hunting dogs. Seven subjects were identified as hunting in the closed area. All subjects were cited and issued a notice to appear citation.

BOAT WON’T FLOAT – Officer Corbin was on water patrol when he located a vessel anchored in the Destin Harbor that was at risk of becoming derelict due to its deteriorating condition. The vessel had an expired registration and was partially dismantled. The registered owner of the vessel was deceased, and a business card was left on the vessel. The owner of the vessel contacted Corbin and they agreed to meet to discuss the vessel’s condition. Officers Corbin and Pifer met the owner and learned he purchased the vessel one year ago. He also owned another commercial fishing vessel in the Destin Harbor that he had owned for 10 months. Neither vessel was registered or titled to the subject, and he was issued notice to appear citations for failure to transfer title/registration within 30 days of change of ownership. He was also issued a uniform boating citation for storing a vessel at risk of becoming derelict on state waters.

O CAPTAIN! MY CAPTAIN! – Officers Pifer and Corbin conducted a saltwater fisheries and license inspection on a charter fishing vessel returning to its slip in the Destin Harbor with customers on board. An inspection of the vessel’s catch revealed three undersized gray triggerfish had been harvested. The captain of the vessel was issued a citation for the violation.

FENDER BENDER – Officers Corbin and Pifer were on patrol in the Destin Pass when they saw three subjects fishing from the channel fender system. They conducted a resource inspection and found several fish in a cooler. One of the fish was an oversize red drum measuring 28 1⁄2 inches in total length. One subject admitted to catching the red drum and was issued a notice to appear citation for the violation.


DEEP WATER TROUBLE – Officers P. Rockwell, H. Rockwell, and Matechik were on federal fisheries patrol aboard the Offshore Patrol Vessel Vigilance. Approximately 11 miles south of Destin, the officers inspected a vessel with three individuals on board. During the inspection, the individuals were found in possession of red snapper during closed season and undersized gray triggerfish. The individuals were cited for the federal violations of possession of red snapper during closed season and possession of undersized gray triggerfish.


DUCK-DUCK-WHOOPS – Lieutenant Hollinhead and Officers Bradshaw and Yates checked a group hunting ducks on private property and determined they had taken 87 ducks. All the ducks were in one vehicle and none of the subjects could identify which they had taken. Two subjects later admitted to taking over their daily bag limit. Thirteen subjects were unable to identify which ducks they had taken so each one was issued a warning for failure to maintain custody of their ducks while in the field. In addition to the warning, two subjects were cited for taking over the daily bag limit of ducks.

DOUBLE WHAMMY – Lieutenant Hollinhead received a call from a Walton County Sheriff’s Deputy who saw an illegal deer in a vehicle when he stopped it for a traffic violation. Hollinhead arrived at the location and determined the deer was a buck with antlers less than 10 inches and issued a citation.

ON PATROL – Lieutenant Hollinhead and Officers Letcher, Tison, Bradshaw, and Yates targeted duck hunting activity the last two days of the season to ensure compliance with migratory bird hunting regulations. The officers located nine different areas with duck hunting activity and checked 43 subjects. Six subjects were cited for taking ducks over bait, one for no federal duck stamp, and two juveniles were issued warnings for taking ducks over a baited area.

– Courtesy of FWC Division of Law Enforcement: Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, and Walton counties


Monofilament collection bins have been placed in several locations along the Emerald Coast, boasting colorful designs by local artists.

Monofilament collection bins have been placed in several locations along the Emerald Coast, boasting colorful designs by local artists.

Monofilament recycling program in its fifth year


Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance

My husband and I pull up to the boat ramp at Ross Marler Park. Located on Okaloosa Island – between bustling Fort Walton Beach and Destin – the park provides a quiet oasis on the Choctawhatchee Bay for families to grill, relax, and swim. While the sandy shorelines looked inviting, the pull of the waves (and the fish underneath) called us to open water.

As we backed the boat down the ramp, I spotted a colorfully painted receptacle, standing close enough that fishermen and women could easily reach its open face. Across the Choctawhatchee Bay, fishing line recyclers just like this one help anglers reduce pollution and keep our waterways clean.

Installed by the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance – a local nonprofit committed to improving swimmable, fishable waterways for future generations – the recyclers are located in Ross Marler and Veterans Park, along the Okaloosa Island Fishing Pier and Destin Harbor, at the Bluewater Bay Marina and Nick’s Seafood Restaurant, as well as Cessna and Thomas Pilcher Parks in Walton County. Decorated by local artists Annette Taunton, Joan Vienot, and Lori Ceier, they feature native species and whimsical mermaids to draw attention to their important function. 

Origin story

Launched on Earth Day, April 22, 2014, CBA’s Monofilament Recycling Program began as a class project for the Destin Area Chamber of Commerce’s 2013-14 Destin FORWARD class. Each year, the group is tasked to come up with a positive impact on the Destin community. Understanding the economic ties Destin has to its waterways as a vacation/fishing destination, the 2013-14 group knew establishing a monofilament recycling program would benefit the health and sustainability of local waterways.

The painted fishing line recyclers are simple to use. Anglers simply deposit their unwanted fishing line of any length into the end of the painted PVC recycler. Each month, volunteers collect the line and CBA ships the monofilament to a recycling center, where it is repurposed into new products. 

Marine menace

When accidentally left in the water, fishing line wreaks havoc. According to The National Audubon Society, “biologists reported that line kills more pelicans than any other hazard” in Florida, while “in Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay, an estimated 5 to 10 percent of osprey nests are lined with the material. Derelict line, which takes hundreds of years to biodegrade, likewise menaces marine mammals and sea turtles.”

Fishing line is a hazard to more than wildlife. The nearly invisible monofilament can become tangled in diving gear and wrap around propellers. 

“By providing an easy way to safely dispose of fishing line,” explains Alison McDowell, CBA director, “we can all do our part to keep the Choctawhatchee Bay, East Pass, and Gulf of Mexico healthy.”

Are you interested in becoming a monofilament volunteer or in sponsoring a beautiful fishing line recycler in your neighborhood? Contact me at or go to the CBA website for more information.


This buck was harvested by Ernie Martin on private land in Northwest Florida.

This buck was harvested by Ernie Martin on private land in Northwest Florida.

Enjoy the hunt – and maybe get your eyes checked


Hook & Trigger

Due to the passing of my father when I was only 13 years old, I had to have help in my continuing education of all things outdoors. My step-dad was very loving and instrumental in my fishing endeavors, but hunting was not his passion. That wasn’t a bad thing, it’s just how things came to be. 

I have a brother-in-law who picked up the slack and showed me his favorite hunting venues. Quail and deer are the two pursuits that he has a passion for. Using the scrubbing technique, we had a lot of successful deer hunts, but I had not taken my first buck and I was now at the age of 19.

Hunting deer for me was a chance to hang out with my extended family. Uncles, cousins and my brother-in-law would form a decent-sized hunting party. I would either be scrubbing or running dogs, depending on the regulations of the hunting areas. I enjoyed my years with the crew, but I still had not taken a buck and I was now 29 and married. I was told that I might need glasses and that I should get my eyes examined. I was a left-eye dominate person who shot right-handed, which posed a big problem with my aiming and shooting a gun! Thankfully, I was fitted with a pair of glasses that corrected my vision.

Well the next hunting season, I had been practicing with my gun and noticed that my aim was significantly improved. I found myself gaining more confidence during dove season and was looking forward to deer season. I remember the day vividly. I had been helping coach the boys’ soccer team and we had a morning practice during Christmas break. 

After returning home I made a quick work of preparations to meet up with my hunting party in the Blackwater Forest. C.B. radios were used for communicating the deer and dog movement through the woods. It also provided intel for where people were taking stands to intercept the deer. When I got within range of my C.B. radio, I turned it on to find out about the current situation and the section we were hunting. The chatter was flowing; it seemed the hunting party had dogs in pursuit of two nice bucks. 

By the time I reached the section, one of the bucks had been harvested and the other had gotten past the standers and he was now in the section that I was driving through. I let my party know which stand I was taking, and I would be off the radio unless the deer turned a different direction. I eased out of my truck to the chorus of dogs that were in hot pursuit of the second buck. They were bearing down on my location. I moved away from my truck and got in a position to see the creek in front of me. I stood still for all of one minute and then my eyes (with glasses on) caught a movement coming out of the creek. The big buck was headed right down the escape route. One shot, one kill, my first big buck and I was 30 years old!

Most people would have probably quit and found something else to do with their time. I love the outdoors and all that it has to offer. Being with friends and family is something that I hold close to my heart. The day I harvested my “big buck” will be cherished for a lifetime. The memories of all the fun I have had on hunting excursions has left me believing that I have been blessed beyond all measure. If you haven’t harvested your big buck yet, keep at it, and you might want to get your eyes checked, too! 

Until next time, God bless and safe hunting.


Ernie Martin holding two topwater bass caught on Lake Seminole.

Ernie Martin holding two topwater bass caught on Lake Seminole.

Know your target to pick the best bait


Hook & Trigger

In May and early June, fishing can be very exciting if you enjoy topwater action. When the topwater bite heats up, my excitement level has been compared to that of a child’s first visit to see Santa Claus. We parents know that there is a good amount of apprehension due to the emotional reaction of the child. Let me explain. 

When a fish of any size or species takes a topwater bait, my reaction to the strike will either end with my removing the hook from the fish’s mouth or with me dodging the lure as it rockets back toward me with no fish in tow. Often my emotional reaction during a topwater strike has left me in a tearful state. That is why I will spend some ink time in this issue on the proper technique of topwater hook set.

Know your bait!

First, know your topwater bait! There is an arsenal of topwater baits on the market. You can catch any species of fish that feeds on floating forage. Popping bugs for panfish, soft plastics that imitate fleeing baitfish for striper, hollow-body frogs slipping through a lily pad field for large-mouth bass and a shrimp hopping out of the water to miss the mouth of a hungry redfish. 

Each topwater bait can have an array of hooks or may have just one single hook. The species of fish you’re pursuing will be a factor in the hook(s) size and configuration. The type of hook is basically set to match the species and type of water surface structure. Fishing water that is open and clear of surface structure will allow for treble hooks. When fishing structure such as aquatic vegetation, an enclosed single hook will be required. The size of the fish’s mouth will play a factor in hook style and the gauge of steel used in hook production.

Without a doubt, the topwater bite is the most heart-pounding, exhilarating, most intense moment when the surface comes alive around your lure. Even the most seasoned anglers will have an instant increase in blood pressure during a vicious strike. Seeing the strike is an awesome experience, however, catching that fish can lead to an all-out temper tantrum when an angler can’t connect with the hungry fish.

Plan of attack

The hook set on a topwater strike can be very frustrating. I have witnessed seasoned anglers dodging their topwater bait as it rockets toward their body after a missed hook set. What I have determined is that there is not a single given technique for setting the hook on a topwater bite. There are however a couple of suggestions that I will offer.

First, know your desired species. I know for a fact that large mouth bass eat a topwater bait in several different styles. Sip, slurp and smash are the three most prevalent attacks that I have watched a bass perform over my career. From soft and subtle, aka the sip; to just swim by and grab it, the slurp; to a vicious water splashing attack are all part of a bass’s method of operation. The best way to figure them out is time on the water.

Second, practicing a slight pause after the fish strikes your lure is another technique. Allow the fish to grab the lure and make a turn so that your hook set is not pulling the lure away from their mouth but rather a perpendicular hook set. Having said that, it is the hardest thing to do if you are easily excited. Remember your lure and the hook type to assist in the proper and patient hook set.

Let me give you two examples of different topwater baits and how I set the hook. The first lure of choice is the old walking bait with two treble hooks. When I see the strike, I will pause and set the hook in a sideways and downward sweeping motion at half throttle. Remember you have six points on those hooks so don’t over set them. 

The next lure is the hollow body floating frog with one hook. When I’m using this lure there is a ton of surface structure. Lily pads, timber, grass and docks just to name a few. I will watch the lure descend from the surface and then I will try to rip that fish out of the structure. Yes, it’s jaw-jacking time with this bait!

As a side note, the frog lure works best if it’s directly tied to your favorite braided line. I’ll use fluorocarbon line for my walking bait.

So, there you have it: my guide to heart palpitations and exercise in either triumph or disappointment. Practice your patience and know your quarry. 

Until next time, God bless and great fishing.