There is not much good that can be said about this year’s red tide bloom, which has dragged on and on and on and has popped up at various times in locations from Naples to Tampa Bay. But (so far, at least) it has not ventured very far into Charlotte Harbor. There were some days when persistent westerly winds pushed a few floating dead fish from the coastal kills over onto the Harbor’s eastern shore, but it appears there have not been fish kills inland of about Cape Haze Point. This is most likely due to the heavy flow of fresh water out of the Peace River and the Myakka River.
And on the other side, out in the Gulf offshore of Boca Grande, it appears that most of the red tide bloom has remained within about 10 miles of the coast. This means that most of the areas farther offshore — where most anglers fish for grouper, snapper and other reef fish during the summer months — have been spared.
Interestingly, we have not seen huge numbers of dead reef fish in some offshore areas where red tide has been present. A few weeks ago, one of the water samples we collected for the FWC seven miles offshore contained a red tide cell count higher than four million cells per liter. Fish kills generally start occurring when cell counts hit the 100,000 cells per liter mark, so that sample was 40 times higher than the fish kill threshold. There were no dying fish there.
However, all of our samples are taken at the surface. I think that this bloom, at least in the area where we are sampling, may be mostly limited to the surface waters and might not be as heavy down along the bottom. This is not uncommon. Many offshore fishermen tell stories from past years about having live baits in their baitwells dying from red tide while the fishing down on the bottom was good at the same spot. And the reverse can be true. I have seen red tide blooms lay along the bottom and kill reef fish while not being detectable at the surface.
Now for a disclaimer: My observations are limited to Charlotte Harbor and along a small portion of the Southwest Florida coast off Boca Grande. And, we are not out there every single day, so we don’t see everything that happens. Further, conditions could very well be much different a little north or south of us. Most importantly of all, red tide conditions can change quickly — so quickly that by the time that you read this, conditions could be completely different. So please don’t yell at me if you see something different.
The one-year anniversary of our 2017 encounter with Hurricane Irma is just a few days away, and the media is sure to commemorate the date by showing us images which remind us just how bad it was for Florida at about this time last year.
If you remember this date last year, we were all working ourselves into a tizzy as we watched Irma, then one of the largest and most powerful Atlantic hurricanes in memory, pummel various islands in the Caribbean as it trundled our way. Nerves were on edge and near-panic overtook many people, resulting in one of the largest mass evacuations in Florida’s history as the storm approached.
Irma did pound the middle Keys, but then rapidly started losing strength as she headed our way. And she stayed just far enough east to take her highest velocity winds inland from the population centers along Florida’s west coast, so it could have easily been much worse.
But instead of focusing on that bad memory, let’s look at some good news. We are now just about at the peak of hurricane season 2018, but so far it’s been a non-event. We are a few days past Sept. 1, the mathematical mid-point of the season which runs from June 1 through Nov. 30, so we are more than halfway through.
The date of historic peak activity is Sept. 10 (which, by coincidence, was the exact date that Irma visited Punta Gorda last year). According to historical records, the likelihood of tropical storms or hurricanes begins to rapidly plummet after the peak of Sept. 10. The best news of all: Tropical storms and hurricanes are pretty rare in November, so if we can make it another 60 days, then we should be in the clear. Once we start having some cool mornings, it’s pretty much “game over” for tropical weather.
Let’s go fishing!
Capt. Ralph Allen runs the King Fisher Fleet of sightseeing and fishing charter boats located at Fishermen’s Village Marina in Punta Gorda. He is an award-winning outdoor writer and photographer and is a past president of the Florida Outdoor Writers Association. Call him at 941-639-2628 or email Captain@KingFisherFleet.com.