Back in my teens I used to come to Florida to visit my family that lived in Sarasota. My Aunt Hazel was the fisher woman and we would go out and fish at least every other day. We used live shrimp, or if there were Mackerel around, we would use a silver spoon. We fished primarily off of the bridges and overpasses. We would catch Sheephead, Mackerel, Catfish, Sea Trout, Grunts, Pinfish, Redfish, and hope for a Snook. Back in the 70’s I never heard of Red Tide but over the years I heard some about it. Well, I have experienced it now, and it’s no joke! I witnessed first hand the devastation of what many say, was “the worst Red Tide in Florida history”. It lasted a year and a half. It began on the West Coast of Florida in the Gulf of Mexico in October 2017, and dissipated in the winter of 2018/2019. The area effected was from Naples up north past Tampa bay, and even some areas around the Panhandle and on the East Coast. It did not get into the Keys or the Everglades south of Naples. Tampa Bay was mostly spared and the Red Tide didn’t get much up into Charlotte Harbor. As of April 2019 it seems to be gone. I walked the section of beach around Venice on May 19, 2019 and the water was beautiful, there was lots of bait balls (schools of minnows), and I found groups of Snook close to shore actively herding, and then attacking the schools. Its quite a sight when a pack of Snook, in unison, explode with open mouths into a billion minnows, sending them into panic mode flying out of the water. This is a sight and sound every fly angler should witness. I would love to get a video of it but at this point, I am more interested in fishing when that happens and can’t seem to pull myself away to get a video. I have been back to the same location twice but with no luck. Not sure what happened. There was lots of bait but no interested Snook.
The current red tide report for Florida and Texas is available here.
In 2017 when I first heard that the red tide had arrived on my local beach on Longboat key, only 5 miles from where I live, I went out to see for myself. The water had definitely changed colors and was a brownish, olive color. Of the beach there were some fish floating belly up, but not too many. I continued on down to Longboat pass where the tide was moving out. When I got out of my truck, the smell was noxious. Lots of fish were belly up. I watched a huge dead Snook slowly float by. There was a constant stream of smaller fish floating belly up as far as the eye could see. Other people were watching the spectacle and complaining of the smell and dead fish. I snapped a couple pictures and by the time I got back in my truck, my lungs were beginning to burn and a funny taste was developing in my mouth. Some people are not sensitive to the Red Tide smell, unfortunately I am.
Red Tide is a discoloration of seawater caused by a bloom of toxic algae. Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota has this definition of Red Tide. “Red tide, a harmful algal bloom, is a higher-than-normal concentration of a microscopic alga (plant-like organism). In marine (saltwater) environments along Florida’s west coast and elsewhere in the Gulf of Mexico, the species that causes red tides is Karenia brevis, often abbreviated as K. brevis. To distinguish K. brevis blooms from red tides caused by other species of algae, researchers in Florida call it “Florida red tide.” For more on what red tide is visit the Mote Marine Web Site.
For the next year and a half the Red Tide devastated the Florida west coast for 150 miles of coastline. I was devastated too, and so were many thousands of anglers, homeowners, boater, restaurant owners, tourists, and anyone living close to the Gulf and intercostal waterways. The places where I had been fishing on Longboat Key, AnaMaria Island, and Sarasota bay were now turned into a marine graveyard. During the summer of 2018 sight fishing for Snook off the beach was no longer an option. Over the next year and a half, thousands of tons of dead marine life were scooped up from the beaches, canals, and intercostal waterways. Dumsters were put on the beaches not for trash but for dead fish!
The devastation continued and began to kill Dolphins, Manatees, Turtles, Sea Birds, and even some sharks. In Robinson Preserve, only a few miles from my home over 30,000 pounds of Mullet washed up dead. Commercial Mullet fishermen went from cast netting live schools of fish to cleaning up the rotting catch with pitchforks.
Dead Fish Don’t Eat Flies!
I quit fishing the salt water. It was too noxious to my lungs and depressing to my soul to witness such devastation.
It takes a lot to get me to quit fishing, especially since I just moved to Florida and have fallen in love with salt water fishing. Since the Red Tide has now subsided, I am back exploring, but the fishing is not the same. My experience is there certainly are not as many fish around. It may take several years for the numbers of fish to recover. Some of the local areas I don’t fish at all because there are just no fish there. I have been fishing mostly south Tampa Bay, only a half hour drive, and some in Charlotte Harbor to the south. I am finding few Pinfish on the grass flats as millions died off, sank to the bottom, washed up on the beach, and were taken to landfills. Lots of Sea Trout were lost. Lots of the huge Snook that were off the beaches spawning died. They are gone and their progeny. There seem to be quite a few Snook still around the Mangroves in certain areas. They are beginning to appear on the beaches so it will be interesting to see how many show up. The Snook population was not hurt too bad, according to some experts. The Florida Division of Wildlife has closed the harvesting of Redfish, Snook and all Sea Trout. Now is the time for all anglers to pinch down the barbs and release Redfish, Trout and Snook.
Red Tide has been around in Florida for hundreds, if not thousands of years but many believe it has been intensified by human pollution, namely Nitrogen and Phosphorus from septic tanks, agricultural run off, human sludge, wastewater runoff, dog poop, sewage from broken pipes, and pesticide spraying that have deposited billions of gallons of nutrients into the ocean. Nutrient rich water has also been diverted from Lake Okeechobee and sent down the Calusahatche river to the west coast, and the St Lucy river on the East coast. Many feel this polluted fresh water containing a different type of algae, the Blue Green Algae, kills fresh water marine life and birds and it also fuels the saltwater Red tide when it hits the saltwater. Because billions of gallons of water are being sent east and west instead of going south as it naturally would, the Everglades, located south of lake Okeechobee has lost half of its area. The Everglades is literally drying up. Many thousands of acres of sea grass has vanished in Florida Bay because it is not receiving the natural fresh water needed to sustain sea grass. Sea grass can not survive if the water is too saline.
My study of Red tide began and has led to the larger picture. Many harmful algae blooms (HAB) are occurring and increasing around the world! I think Florida is mearly a microcausum of what is happening in many places throughout the world where the ocean and waterways have become enriched with nutrients. Even in my home state of Colorado there are HAB’s occuring in some high mountain streams like the White River near Meeker. Everyone along both Florida Coasts, from fishermen, home owners, restaurant workers, vacationers, real estate brokers, and developers are on their knees praying the Red tide will not come back, and that the Blue Green algae in the freshwater canals and rivers will not occur again this year or in the future. A rather naive hope. Everyone knows it will show up again, after all it has been around for millennium and it is increasing in frequency. Unless there are new methods put in place to stop nutrients from entering the freshwater and salt water environment, I am afraid there will be continued increases in HAB in Florida. These methods cost Billions of dollars to put in place.
So what can you and I do to help combat Harmful Algae Blooms?
- Get Educated. Goggle “Harmful Algae Blooms” in you state. No matter where you live there are probably some HAB close by. Find out what is contributing to HAB outbreaks.
2. Get involved with concerned local organizations that are concerned about reducing the amount of nutrients entering your waterways. and streams. In Florida the Everglades Foundation, Captains for Clean Water, Bull Sugar, are a few grass roots organizations with educational material, and fighting for laws to be changed, and money appropriated to clean up the problems.
3. Take a political stand: Vote for those legislators who are advocating for Clean Water. Unfortunately a problem that has taken hundreds of years to develop in Florida may take many years and billions of dollars to correct. Don’t give up hope!
4. Reduce the amount of chemical pesticides and fertilizers you use, clean up dog poop, and encourage others to do the same.
All algae are not harmful. In fact if it were not for Algae there would be no human or animal life. Algae produce the oxygen we breath and are the ” primary producers upon which aquatic ecosystems depend”. We are dependent upon algae for our lives and we must learn to keep HAB ‘s in check or human life upon the earth will perish! Nations will rise and fall depending on what they do with their poop! The Red Tide is gone now in South West Florida. It will probably take a few years for the fishery to recover. For now, my barbs are pinched down. I will continue to fish the beautiful salt water and appreciate every “hook up” I get.
After posting this article I found out that “In Southwest Florida over the past week, K. brevis was observed at background concentrations in and offshore of Manatee County, background to very low concentrations in or offshore of Sarasota County, background to very low concentrations in or offshore of Charlotte County, and background concentrations offshore of Lee County.”