whale shark

AP file photo

This whale shark washed ashore on Sanibel in July 2018, killed by red tide. If we don’t want to see scenes like this repeated, changes are needed.

We all dread red tide problems. Our current bloom seems to be dying off. It could disappear soon. Or, it might grow again, or just keep bouncing around at the level it is now. One of the most frustrating things about red tide is the impossibility of making an accurate prediction.

What can we or local governments do about red tide? Another major outbreak could be disaster. But it could be necessary to forces us to address the sources of nutrient pollution. Reality is government ignores everything it can. To fix things, the sources have to be outed, and then it will take money to clean things up. But elected officials need contributions to get elected and re-elected. It’s expensive to campaign. What do those big contributions buy?

First, let’s accurately assess the situation. In recent years we have developed better tools to track blooms. So, it’s possible to do a bit of online research and enjoy a day on the water, even with red tide around. As I write this, we have patchy red tide in Charlotte Harbor and Pine Island Sound. The past couple months have been devastating to Lee and Collier counties, but their beaches are clear now.

Red tide is just like any other problem, and we can usually work around it. Find clear areas and enjoy your water activities. Deal with actual problems not the “what if” stuff. If it’s sporadic and patchy, find the clear areas and enjoy the action. We have boat ramps everywhere. Don’t be afraid to move around. I don’t like problems, but I will not let them steal my fishing fun. Remember that red tide can’t live in fresh or brackish waters.

If we do suffer a major bloom — and even if this one dies off, there will be another big one sooner or later — let’s use the disaster to make sure we identify what’s feeding these blooms. Yes, red tide is a natural occurrence, but we have had red tides too frequently. Why? Red tide requires nutrients to bloom and grow. If we stop feeding it, we reduce its growth. The need to reduce nutrient runoff seems to be a no-brainer.

One key ingredient to success in any venture is to focus on the problem and then deliver the solutions. We all want to fix everything right away and get immediate results. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work that way. Choose an achievable target. Direct your efforts at this goal and do your best to hit the target.

It’s crystal clear to me that we must address reducing nutrients in our waterways. One detail that has been acknowledged as a contributor to persistent blooms is the dead fish. We must create an option to deal with dead fish ASAP. Areas north of us have created pickup strategies. Some used county and city employees; others used commercial fishermen. Hiring the fishermen is especially helpful, providing income to those who are losing out due to red tides.

Of course, we need a place to deposit these smelly carcasses. We can explore options that might utilize these nitrogen-rich discards, such as converting them into agricultural fertilizer — if it’s not going to leach back into our waterways!

Betsy Calvert’s article in the Dec. 5 Sun report asks, “Is Charlotte Harbor water quality in danger?” This is exactly what I’m scared of. If you missed it, read it at http://bit.ly/36ko9rD and gain better understanding of our concerns. “Current county organizational structures limits coordination of water quality monitoring and restoration efforts, despite the staff willingness to do so,” reads one section of the article.

These experts mirror many of my concerns: “If our water quality continues to degrade, impacts to our residents, fish, and wildlife, and economy will become increasingly more dramatic, if not irreversible,” the article states. Are we doing enough to monitor our water quality? Not even close. How will we encourage our county commissioners to understand how serious our problems are? This could literally be life or death to our economy. Ask anyone in a water-related business how they are doing. Red tide is killing us.

We need vetted suggestions — but please, educate yourselves before you throw out simple ideas. Many of us are just venting our frustration; this is not fixing anything. I’m very disappointed in many of the social media comments. Some folks are lazy and parroting propaganda provided by biased sources.

If these issues were so easy to fix, it would have been done long ago. It took decades of abuse to create the nutrient overloads and they will require suffering, time and money to resolve. Do something positive. It has taken 25 years of restoration efforts on Chesapeake Bay to resolve their nutrient input problems and clean up waters. But it’s working there, it’s working in Tampa Bay, and it can work here. The longer we ignore problems, the more time and money to mitigate them, so let’s get to fixing them soon.

Capt. Van Hubbard is a highly respected outdoor writer and fishing guide. He has been a professional USCG-licensed year-round guide since 1976, and has been fishing the Southwest Florida coast since 1981. Contact him at 941-468-4017 or VanHubbard@CaptVan.com.

Capt. Van Hubbard is a highly respected outdoor writer and fishing guide. He has been a professional USCG-licensed year-round guide since 1976, and has been fishing the Southwest Florida coast since 1981. Contact him at 941-468-4017 or VanHubbard@CaptVan.com.

Remember that you can’t catch fish if you don’t go fishin’, so let’s go fishin’ soon.

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