river view

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The river is beautiful, but whatever is dumped in upstream comes down with the water.

We are all part of our problems or the solutions to those problems. Which are you? Truth is, most of us are tangled up in both. If you don’t think you’re contributing to the problem, consider that where your house is used to be wild land. Besides, when we continue allowing our governments to put growth without mitigation ahead of our environments, we are contributing to our own problems.

Even the Sunday comics are aware of our folly. A recent strip shows dinosaurs drinking from a creek, then moving to bathe in a “different” creek. But it’s just upstream from their drinking pool! Everything upstream flows downstream — including whatever we have added. We need to recognize our mistakes and take better care of our water (and therefore ourselves).

We act surprised when water quality issues sneak up on us, yet fail to adequately protect ourselves from contamination. It is outrageous to continue allowing septic tank sewage treatment for new construction near our waters. Yet I count five new homes being built in my tiny neighborhood without sewage treatment hookups. Here’s one to think about: Can viruses spread through improper sewage disposal or inadequate waste treatments?

It’s raining, and I’m hearing the usual reports of sewage spills and overflows into Sarasota Bay. These are from Manatee County this time. It’s kept as quiet as possible, since bad press is not good for real estate sales. In the latest big one, a contractor digging accidentally cut into a line. Spilled a million gallons. Most reached the bay. It all flows downstream. Sewage spills and nutrient-rich stormwater runoff frequently lead to problems. Let’s hope we get a break after so many challenges.

Our fishing and local fish stocks are damaged. There is talk about fish hatcheries. One is finally in works, but still no production. Just another “we are working on it” — never a priority. We know it could help support our critically important fishing-related economy. Stock enhancement has been proven successful, but somehow never gets funded. Meanwhile, coastal businesses from Tampa to Naples are losing income from preventable closures of snook, trout and redfish.

We had 23 boats fishing the tarpon tournament in Boca Grande Pass last Thursday and Friday afternoons. Tarpon fishing was great — 70 fish were caught and safely released in seven hours. This is the traditional fishing with 100-pound test line and experienced guides.

However, in my past experience, we commonly caught gag grouper in these situations. Despite almost every angler using live squirrelfish (grouper candy) for bait, I was shocked to note zero were caught during the entire event. I ask several other long-time captains about this, and they all had observed a lack of grouper in the Boca Pass the last couple of years.

What’s going on? Gags nearshore are not as abundant either, from my observations. Is this a lack of fish, habitats, or both? Red tides decimated many fish stocks throughout our area in recent years. Low oxygen levels caused by the red tide blooms also killed much of our natural bottom corals and habitats.

Let’s not forget the invasion of shrimp boats in spring of 2019, which demolished everything sticking up off the bottom from 3 to about 9 miles offshore in Gulf coastal waters. I’m not against shrimping per se — I like to eat fresh local seafood too. But because of big money catches, at times there were 30 or more boats working a relatively small area and tearing the bottom up.

Local captains know our bottom ledges and mostly avoid them. These rigs came from as far as Louisiana and Texas, desperately trying to make some money. They worked hard, but lacking local knowledge they dragged over smaller natural bottom structures and leveled much of our corals and sponges. I saw crews mending nets many days when they should have been sleeping.

Their bycatch did provide great shark fishing opportunities but my bottom fishing in state waters has seen substantial changes since. The hard bottom areas where I caught grouper, snapper and other reef fish are now home to squirrelfish and pinfish. Lacking necessary structure, the larger predators have vanished, allowing baitfish to take over.

This is just another example of lack of proactive management. History has taught me the pattern: First, we have no rules, then we see shutdowns and overreaction. Rarely do we have wise proactive management that heads off problems. They are trying to do better, but it’s an uphill struggle.

Active advisory boards comprised of knowledgeable local experts could resolve much of this, but such boards are difficult to create and maintain — plus, lawmakers would have to actually listen to them. Without them, we will have more problems.

It is challenging to assemble groups of volunteers willing to work for free, putting personal agendas aside, providing balanced and vetted management options that consider all aspects of stakeholders, including endangered commercial and for-hire industries. We must balance the necessity to maintain stocks and habitats with the needs of our residents and businesses.

In our chaotic world today, many of us dig in and hold our preconceived ideas rather than seeking solutions with open minds. Many just stick their heads in the sand, ignoring problems and hoping they go away. (Notice how they never do?) Continued growth and a constantly increasing population stress our environment. It needs help to recover.

It’s easy to just complain and expect others to fix our problems but it will not improve until we take personal responsibility and hold ourselves accountable. We have the government we elected, and it all flows downstream from there. They desire to better things, but if they want to help, they must understand everyone needs a healthier environment in which to live and play.

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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