okeechobee crappie

Photo provided

This mess of crappie came from the waters of Lake Okeechobee. Would you eat them?

I’m tired of all the negative “news” about our algae problems. We are hearing about horror and devastation. There certainly have been very devastating fish kills and we have suffered severe loss of life. However, the other side of this is we do still have fish and healthy places to enjoy our waters safely. What is the truth? The answer is it varies, and we can get yesterday’s reports but conditions can change rapidly. Call local sources, check with trustworthy friends and get accurate accounts, not the “all is doomed” end-of-the-world babble.

I’m not suggesting you endanger your health. Of course we all want to avoid problem areas, but media coverage is rarely up to date or accurate — especially social media like Facebook. Take the time to educate yourselves and enjoy any breaks we get, since our local businesses could really use your support.

Red tide blooms are not stable and at fixed locations. They ebb and flow, increase and decrease, and move with the winds, waves and tides. Usually by the time the word or a problem spot gets out, red tide has dispersed and the area has cleared up. Our biggest trouble now is inaccurate news shutting down beach and water-based businesses — which are a huge part of our local economy.

Most of us try to keep reports accurate for our areas. We don’t want to spoil your experience or travels in our areas. Please check with responsible local businesses before you cancel plans. Better businesses will work with you to help decide the best options for your happy visit. Our reputation is at stake and we look forward to happy returning business.

Please remember that all local water-related businesses — charter captains, to be sure, but also tackle shops, marinas, boat dealers, waterfront and seafood restaurants, hotels, etc. — have lost significant income. Many are struggling to survive the negative press from these problems. Consider the actual present conditions when you’re deciding whether to visit or go fishing. Bad news gets more ink than good, so help spread the good news when available. We all need help to promote local businesses whenever we can.

My understanding (and I’ve survived so far) is this: If fish are healthy enough to bite, they’re safe to eat. Also shrimp and crabs I’m told are fine to eat if they’re alive when caught. On the other hand, clams, oysters, scallops, etc. are not safe to eat because they are filter feeders. Please share any better reliable info you have, but I’m eating local fish every few days and my health is fine.

Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades do have issues to address. However, those problems are not having significant impacts locally. Look at a map and see how far away they are from Charlotte Harbor. Yes, dying blue-green algae coming down the Caloosahatchee River from the lake could feed red tide blooms. But what are the real conditions of the waters on Lake O? How could the lake be so polluted yet have great fishing?

Let’s look closer to identify the actual nutrient sources. We need water analysis of the lake, the river and all potential impact contributors (like Cape Coral’s canals) to specifically identify our nutrient sources. I want to see specific data showing how much of the problem is Lake O and how much the Caloosahatchee’s watershed contributes. My understanding is only 40 percent of the river flow at Punta Rassa originates in Lake O. Where does the other 60 percent come from, and what nutrients does it contain?

Big Sugar and agriculture certainly contribute, but can they really be blamed for everything? Can it be that residential sewage, septic and fertilizer outflows have no ill effects? Is blaming ag just a diversion from the real sources? I want facts, not agenda-driven propaganda. The election is over. Let’s get serious about solutions, not blame. Blame will solve nothing.

The Everglades must be restored as best we can, but don’t expect those fixes to solve the Harbor’s trouble. The ‘Glades is a unique watershed, filtering the waters and providing habitat to many unique plants and animals. It used to provided the balance of clean fresh water to nourish and sustain Florida Bay.

With that water lacking, South Florida has devastated areas that once flourished with seagrasses, fish and assorted marine life. These nurseries are critical for everything living in those waters, including conch and lobsters. Ask the old-time Islamorada backcountry guides what we had and then how much is degraded. The ‘Glades sheet flow can’t be redone as our Creator built it, but it can be restored to help reclaim everything we can.

I wish we could just grab a silver bullet and kill this mess. But the reality is we have long-term problems that require long-term vetted solutions. Those solutions aren’t going to be free or cheap, and we’re all going to pay somehow. Now it’s time to find common ground and start making forward motion. Thank you all.

Next week, let’s get fishy — the mack attack is already here.

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


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