With the increase of fishing technology and the amount of people in the Tampa fishing community how are our fisheries responding? I come from 4 generations of professional fishermen. As far as I can determine, my family started fishing the Tampa Bay area in the 1920s. Through many conversations with the old timers in my family, I have been able to grasp a picture of our ecosystem that is unique to most other fisherman. The Tampa Bay fishery took a gradual turn for the worst in the 1970s and has been in a downward spiral ever since. As I commonly explain on Tampa Fishing Charters , three things have adversely affected our fishery;
1.The Army Corps of Engineers
Some where along the way politicians and engineers thought it would be a great idea to cut a bunch of straight lines through winding rivers, creeks and lakes of Florida. The largest example of this is Lake Okeechobee. The largest lake in Florida’s waters were created to naturally overflow its southern banks and drain through the Everglades into Florida Bay creating an amazing River of Grass. However, to give sugarcane farmers land to harvest , the southern end of the lake was dammed to prevent this overflow. Then sugarcane farmers were permitted to farm the newly dried lands and pump their fertilized overflow back into Lake Okeechobee. In fact a dam was built around the entire lake and a straight lined waterway from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean was built: on the west side of the lake it was the Caloosahatchee River and on the east side was the St. Luice Waterway. The lake would no longer flow south to nourish the Everglades and Florida Bay. Instead, highly fertilized freshwater was redirected through the waterway towards Jupiter FL and towards Captiva Island, Sanibel Island and Fort Myers Beach. The result has been an ecological disaster.
Tampa Bay and Charlotte Harbor have similar problem. Captain Rick Reddick of Tampa Fishing Charters and Clearwater Fishing Charters has noticed a tremendous decline in these fishery due to similar development. During the 1960’s upper Tampa Bay was plentiful with large fresh oysters, scallops, creek chubs, fiddler crabs and many other exotic marine life, but the damming and development of the Tarpon By Pass Canal, Tampa Shores and A Cut, Double Branch, Rocky Creek, Bay Crest, Sweet Water, & Dana Shores destroyed the Upper Tampa Bay fishery. Not to mention the man-made land barrier known as the Courtney Camble Causeway that stifled water flow to the upper bay. Until recently the causeway had multiple water flow passageways to allow cleaner water to flow into the upper bay, but those have been slowly removed or dammed. Every naturally flowing creek and river around Tampa Bay has been tampered with. This can only be done with the permission of politicians, the Army Corps of Engineers and local government.
When a river, creek or lake is dammed, the water above the dam often becomes toxic due to lack of natural flow, fertilized freshwater run off and the warm days of summer heating up this stagnate water. During rainy periods these dams often over flow their banks and produce an algae bloom that floats though Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. This bloom, known as Red Tide, suffocates all marine life caught in it’s path.
2. Sewage Treatment Plants & Systems
A dirty little secret around Florida is that most local municipalities have been given permission to pump their treated sewage back into our ecosystem and mainly pumping it back into our waterways. The cities of Clearwater, Dunedin, and St. Pete, to name a few, all have “reclaimed water” pumped either into Tampa Bay or the Intracostal Waterway. These sewage pipes can be found in Upper Tampa Bay, Downtown St. Pete and Saint Joseph Sound.
I have taken treatment plant workers with me on charter and they admit that at times raw sewage must be dumped into our estuaries. The tanks that treat the sewage contain a microorganism that eats the contaminated water. These microorganism must have the proper ph balance in order to eat the sewage. These holding tanks and the pipes that transport the sewage to them have not been update in decades. As a result, when Florida receives a lot of rain, which occurs yearly, these antiquated pipes leak sewage and the holding tanks must be dumped in order to maintain the proper ph balance for the microorganisms. This is especially true during tropical storms, hurricanes, the normal FL rainy season and El Nino years.
In 1975, I was born in Tampa General Hospital on the Hillsborough River, Davis Island – Downtown Tampa, location: Hillsborough County, Florida. In July 1975, The population of Hillsborough County was 593,245. As of July 2015, 40 years later, the population increased to 1,349,100. That is an increase of 755,855 or 225%. Florida is the boating & fishing capital of the world. Their is more per capita boat ownership and fishermen in Florida, than any where else in the world and Tampa Bay is the largest saltwater fishery in the state.
The amount of people using the waters of Tampa Bay has almost more than doubled in my life time. With so many people on the water, the fishery has been hit hard. Personally, I think all inshore game fish species such as tarpon, snook, red fish and trout should be catch and release only. The amount of people harvesting from this limited resource has greatly depleted our stocks. Our fishery simply can not handle this increased pressure.
Does Red Tide Still Exist
Growing up in the Tampa Bay area we are used to summer red tides, but in the last five years we have noticed a change in the red tide patterns. Now, these crimson tides are occurring in the winter months. In years past, the cooler winter months have been effective at reducing or eliminating any red tides lingering from the summer months, but this no longer happens. This means that these clouds of death are growing stronger year after year.
The term “red tide” has become a convenient excuse for pollution created by the problems previously discussed. Antibiotics and other medicines that pass through the human body are not eliminated in sewage treatment plants. Our waters are full of staff infections, MRSA, steroids, antibiotics and fertilizer. This pollution is super charging our red tides. As a kid growing up here, we used to swim, surf and fish in the red tides. During the red tide of 2016, I continued this practicing of commercial fishing with cast nets in these polluted waters. What a big mistake: I was infected with MRSA from the waters of Tampa Bay and almost died. I was hospitalized in March of 2016 for 5 days. I was operated on to remove the infection and treated with heavy antibiotics. The long term results of this infection is loss of bladder function and many other painful effects, including emotional and financial distress. Its hard to make money fishing when our waters are polluted. It is time to wake up and realize that we are destroying our oceans.
Written by Captain Rick Reddick