Easter came and went. Season is over, and it’s time for us locals to enjoy local fishing.
What is the state of our fisheries? I’m interested to know how local anglers feel about our fish populations. I’ve been asked to meet with industry leaders in July about the health and concerns for the fishing/boating worlds. Feel free to contact me directly or any way you like. I don’t want fishing stories. My concern is how locals feel about fish stocks, water quality, seagrass and anything good or bad we need to consider.
Many guides and anglers have enjoyed some good snook action recently. I’m hearing of some redfish as well. Most of these catches were inside the Harbor. As fish move out from their winter haunts, we will better understand our stocks.
I’m also hearing too many horror stories from longtime experienced local guides. Many area guides I network with are far below their usual bookings for this time of year. Why has the fishing business changed so dramatically? The national economy is excellent, and people have money to spend. Is this because of red tide? My fellow guides: How far below average was your last year?
Wind has hurt us so far in 2019; it seems we have a front come through every weekend. Red tides and negative press killed us last year. Anyone have an idea how many water-related business failed last year because of red tides? Are people not coming back here because of water quality issues or bad press?
Personally, my trips were off by about 50 percent last year. I’ve lost a third of my bookings this year due to windy days. I expect to deal with weather, but because of red tide fish kills Lemon Bay fishing is depressing. I’m also hearing about below-average fishing from Gasparilla Sound down to Pine Island Sound. Charlotte Harbor had some fish; let’s see what is left now with fish moving around. I’m not comfortable taking inside trips until the catching improves. Yes, there are fish in Charlotte Harbor, but that’s too far a run from Stump Pass for a half-day trip.
I’d like to hear some real thought-out opinions on what our problems are and how we might deal with them. I’m looking for first-hand observations, anecdotal experiences and ideas we all can consider. Don’t just whine and throw out impulsive thoughts. Consider the impacts and repercussions of any actions taken. Everything we do affects things around it. Many courses of action can do more harm than good.
There are numerous groups tossing around all sorts of ideas: Build fish hatcheries. Restore oyster beds. Plant more seagrass. Replace septic tanks with sewers. Send wastewater underground. How do you feel about these? Which ones appear to be real and attempting to fix things, not just get press?
We have lost much of our seagrass. Why aren’t we hearing anything from the Save The Manatee folks? What will our manatees eat with algae covering seagrasses? I don’t want to run over manatees with my boat, but if they starve to death how is that better?
With fish stocks down, we have hungry animals. What’s going on here? Notice how many pond birds you see in ditches seeking food. Dolphin are a bigger problem than ever. They are stealing fish from our lines. Don’t tell me to just move, because they have followed me for miles! Yes, miles, and multiple moves attempting to get away. When something is missing in the food chain, it affects everything after it. We are going to have problems for a long time.
Our governing bodies are pitifully unaware of the importance of our water quality. At last week’s county commission meeting, one of the commissioners made a sarcastic joke to everyone: He said he could just quit construction and go fishing. They have no idea how important fish and water quality are to our coastal communities.
Look around at how many local businesses depend on clean, healthy waters. It’s not just fishing guides. It’s also boat dealers, resorts, restaurants, marinas, marine repair, and yes, even real estate. All require healthy waters and good press for our area. If large segments are hurting, this affects everything else. This isn’t Wall Street — our local economy is based on the water.
It’s time — past time, really — to dig in and make the sacrifices necessary to reclaim our dominant place in tourism. I understand it’s going to be expensive and hurt our wallets now, but we must salvage our economy. People won’t move to an area with a reputation for poison water and dead fish on the beaches. The deeper the hole we dig, the more money it will take to climb out, if we can at all.
Share your thoughts and save our county. Are we going to be better off next year or deeper in the hole? Time matters. Educate those controlling our future. Raising impact fees to max and using the funds to fix our infrastructure is a good place to start. Charlotte County had another sewage spill last month, right into the Myakka. How much more can we take?
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.