We all know the fishing isn’t as good as it used to be. But how much do we understand about why our fish and fishing have changed? Are we willing to make the effort to gain a better understanding of our actual problems?
Look at the impact we’re having on our environments. We have failed to balance population growth with mitigation. We drain wetlands, seawall shorelines and channel runoff into our waterways — and then we act surprised when we have problems. I’m pointing this out now, when it’s mainly locals here to pay attention to these observations. We need to address these problems or continue to suffer the consequences.
Consider some basic facts. The state has almost 23 million residents now, and nearly a thousand more show up every single day. Florida has had 69 million visitors already this year. Visit Florida released that figure just last week. That’s a lot of impact!
Think about our water use and how much sewage we are dealing with. In Florida, residential water use is about 85 gallons per person per day. With about 23 million residents, that’s just short of 2 billion gallons into our sewer and septic systems every day. That’s 700 billion gallons a year — just for personal usage, not agriculture, phosphate mining, etc.
Don’t forget those visitors. The average stay is seven days. Do the math: Seven days times 126 million visitors last year, times 50 gallons (since they’re not watering lawns) gives us another 44 billion gallons annually. Half of that comes out of Orlando — the headwaters of Lake Okeechobee. That’s a lot of sewage and nutrients flowing downstream and contributing to our problems.
Betsy Calvert’s piece in the Sun’s Aug. 19 edition had some scary things to say. “Even with sewer expansions, much of the county’s new growth could end up on septic.” “Without septic systems, Charlotte County will not have the sewer capacity to handle the next ten years of anticipated growth.” ‘“The expansion of our sanitary sewer system is not keeping pace with our growth,” Principal Planner Matt Trepal stated.”’
Despite this, our county commission charges only half of the impact fees it can assess. Why? The article does point out that sewers are not the answer everywhere, but septic sytems are problematic in areas with high water tables! Right now, septic systems are still being installed. By the way, they raised our water rates by 21 percent over three years, but impact fees went up only a tenth of that.
We are all burdens on the water systems, but most of this magazine’s readers have direct impacts on our estuary as well. Thousands of boats churn up our waters, and we act surprised we have turbidity hampering seagrass growth!
How many boats are registered in Florida? As of last year, 950,000. Plus we have many more temporary visiting boaters. Some folks bring down boats to stay, with out of state registrations, they don’t title them here to avoid sales taxes.
What is their impact on our waters? How many old two-stroke engines are still oiling our waters? Don’t beat on newer Evinrude two-strokes; they are the cleanest-burning engines out there now.
My favorite saying is that happy fish feed and scared fish run. Do you seriously think fish are going to hang around shallow water areas with heavy boat pressure? Do you really expect them to feed? As Bill Engvall would say, here’s your sign.
If you want any animal to remain calm and behave naturally, don’t let them know you are there. I learned to stalk fish. My nickname was “The Stalker,” because I used a push pole to sneak up on fish. We’d also cast as far as possible to keep fish happy. This was my best tactic.
Folks don’t understand why I don’t fish reds or snook much anymore. It’s because I can’t fish happy fish. It’s a race to find a spot and hold it. There are some fish to be caught but I know how it was. Plus I just can’t afford to run that much anymore.
Let’s look at just Placida. How many boats do you see at the Placida public ramp on spring days? I’m guessing about 200 parking spots with overflow. And don’t try to find parking after daylight on weekends. Then add in the hundred or so boats launched at Eldred’s, plus hundreds more from Gasparilla Marina. We’re looking at about 500 boats out of Placida alone!
Lemon Bay was an awesome place to enjoy in ‘87 when I purchased my home on Lemon Creek. Now we have at least seven large marinas with boat storage, and most have rental fleets. Freedom Boat Club alone has almost 100 boats. How much traffic can our waterways handle?
These are real problems, and it’s difficult to address them all fairly. How much is too much? What can we do to limit the damage? Are we at a critical tipping point to sustain our waters? Is it any wonder I have trouble sleeping some nights?
Remember that you can’t catch fish if you don’t go fishin’, so let’s go fishin’ 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.