What You Need to Know on How Politics are Destroying our Fisheries
By: Joseph Simonds on August 22, 2018
Whether we want them to or not, politics play a critical role in the health and future of our fisheries.
That has never been more evident in my home state of Florida than right now. We are currently in crisis. We’re dealing with an environmental catastrophe that we’ve never experienced before.
Red tide and toxic freshwater discharges from Lake Okeechobee have resulted in unprecedented, massive fish kills. These fish kills span nearly half of the Florida Gulf Coast and are happening on the east coast too.
Additionally, runoff from yard fertilizer and chemicals, toxic waste and septic tank leakage is spewing into waterways statewide.
Basically, Florida waters everywhere are suffering from multiple forms of pollution. Our fisheries are dying at an exponential rate.
If we don’t do something to save them now, there won’t be anything worth saving in the future.
In this article, we go over the political crises facing Florida fisheries. We also delve into the causes and what we can do to solve them in this week’s podcast episode.
Florida Red Tide and Lake Okeechobee Discharges
In this section, we go over some of the most pressing political and environmental issues affecting our Florida fisheries.
So what is red tide?
Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium is a nonprofit organization that focuses on research and preservation of marine life and environments.
It defines red tide (also known as harmful algal blooms) as “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.”
The red tide that occurs in the Gulf of Mexico is a naturally occurring phenomenon. When it reaches an area, it causes low-oxygen water due to the algae bloom and results in fish kills.
Wave action can also release toxins from the algae into the air. This causes people in the vicinity to experience respiratory irritation and even serious illness for some.
Lake Okeechobee Toxic Freshwater Discharges
The natural flow of Florida’s freshwater starts in Central Florida in the Kissimmee River system. Historically, it flowed down south into Lake Okeechobee, then into the Everglades and finally into Florida Bay.
This is the natural flow of water which sustains a healthy freshwater-saltwater balance for the Florida ecosystem, the Everglades and Florida Bay.
However, over the past century, irrigation to suit the needs of the sugar and agriculture industry and to control water levels in the middle of the state has damned up Lake Okeechobee.
Freshwater that once flowed naturally south was diverted from the lake through discharge spillways into rivers that ran to the coasts.
The spillways sent freshwater through the Caloosahatchee River on the west side of Florida which spills into the Gulf of Mexico. They sent freshwater through the St. Lucie River on the east side of the state, which dumps into the Atlantic Ocean.
Big Sugar and Agriculture
Big Sugar and the agriculture industry have used irrigation canals from their farmlands to dump pollutants, toxic waste and nutrients into Lake Okeechobee.
This is a problem that has been exacerbated over the past decade as Florida political leaders have deregulated protections that prevented these massive amounts of pollutants from reaching Lake Okeechobee at all – all in the name of “business-friendly policies”
Today, “during periods of heavy rainfall, billions of gallons of nutrient- and sediment-laden freshwater are discharged into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers. The Herbert Hoover Dike, which surrounds Lake Okeechobee, prevents this water from flowing south into the Everglades – where it went historically, and where it’s desperately needed today,” according to Captains for Clean Water.
The toxic freshwater discharges kill seagrass, oysters, fish and marine life. They cause severe damage to our estuaries and fisheries.
They also can exacerbate harmful algae blooms and have been linked to increases in the intensity and duration of red tide outbreaks.
At the same time, the Everglades is not getting the necessary freshwater it needs to sustain the ecosystem and is slowly dying as a result.
Check out the video below from Captains for Clean Water which gives an excellent summary of the Lake Okeechobee Discharge crisis:
Politics: Florida in Crisis
Currently, the Gulf Coast of Florida is experiencing a red tide the likes of which we’ve never seen before. The red tide stretches from Clearwater Beach south to the upper reaches of the Everglades. It’s caused unprecedented fish and marine life kills.
This has resulted in thousands of tons of dead and decaying fish, sea turtles, dolphins, whale sharks and manatees washing up on the beaches of Florida.
Hospital visits for respiratory illness are up nearly 50 percent in some coastal communities, according to an article in the Washington Post.
Beaches are closed to the public and the summer tourism season has been decimated. Small businesses are losing money and some are even shutting down.
Florida declared a state of emergency in response to the red tide on August 13. However, many residents think it is too little too late and that the devastation from this red tide is not going away any time soon.
Simultaneously, the Army Corps of Engineers — which manages the discharges from Lake Okeechobee — has released record amounts of toxic freshwater into our estuaries this year.
Many researchers and scientists believe this has compounded the intensity of the red tide and contributed to its growth.
Cape Coral and Fort Meyers, which both sit on the Caloosahatchee River, are the epicenters for these discharges.
The canals and waterways of these seaside communities have been choked by severely toxic blue algae-filled freshwater. The freshwater discharges are dominating the waterways — causing them to resemble a bright green slime. Toxic waste clumps are floating at the top of the water.
On top of respiratory health risks from both these problems, the smell of rotting toxic waters and dead marine life is horrendous and persistent at all times. Residents are staying indoors to avoid the environmental conditions outside their homes.
Vote Clean Water
Many Florida state politicians have made it abundantly clear that they do not plan to do anything about this.
The simple answer is money.
Big Sugar and the agricultural industry are the single biggest players in the political lobbying game. They use campaign contributions and money to influence the politics in the State of Florida to favor their industries.
Companies and owners in this industry are severely wealthy and throw money at candidates on both sides of the aisle to get the environmental policies (or lack thereof) they need in place to make more money.
This all comes at the expense of the citizens of Florida who have to live with the consequences.
That’s why this next election cycle is critical to the future of our fisheries.
We need to band together as fishermen. We need to support candidates who support clean water and science-driven solutions to save our estuaries.
This is not a Republican or Democrat issue. This is a problem we must all come together to fix, despite political affiliation.
This also isn’t just a Florida problem.
Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi have experienced similar issues. States up and down the East Coast are seeing unexplained sea life kills. The Pacific Coast is dealing with severe declines in salmon, steelhead and other fish populations.
Remember in this election cycle, don’t vote based on party; vote based on who supports clean water!
Do you have questions about the political issues facing our fisheries? Want to know how to get involved with the solution?
Let us know in the comments at the bottom of the page!
Note: Don’t forget to SUBSCRIBE to the Fish Strong podcast on iTunes or Google Play.
The Fish Strong Podcast: How Politics are Having Massive Impacts on Fishing
Click the play button to listen right here on our site or click either button below to go directly to iTunes or Stitcher to download the episode.
Note: Don’t forget to SUBSCRIBE to the Fish Strong podcast on iTunes or Google Play.
The Bigger Picture: Get Kids Fishing
The big picture for Salt Strong — as we talked about in a recent podcast episode — is to give every kid in the world a chance to go fishing and to develop a passion for the outdoors.
I have three kids under the age of seven. As their father, I’ve made it a priority to take them fishing as much as possible and teach them to love being outside in nature.
Why do I do this?
Number one, I love my kids and want them to be able to experience the same joy that fishing and the outdoors has given me in my life.
Number two, my kids and others’ — aka the next generation — are the fishermen who are going to continue to fight to protect our environment and fisheries in the future.
If kids never have the chance to go fishing and grow to love the outdoors then they aren’t going to care enough to save it in the future.
Kids one day grow up to be local, state and federal leaders. It is critical that we teach them to value our environment and fishing so that one day when they are in charge of implementing the policies for this country, they will do right by fishermen.
We are losing more and more of our fisheries every year. Clean water is vital to the future.
We have to fight as hard as we can to save them and we need to teach the next generation to fight with us and after we’re gone.
This election, vote clean water and do the necessary research to see which candidates support our cause.
Remember, this isn’t about political parties, this is about our fisheries and our homes. We need to act now to save them before it’s too late.
If you have questions about the state of our fisheries or know a great way to contribute to saving them, please let us know in the comments section.
Also, let me know any guests you think we should have on the podcast that could shed some light on what’s going on with our fisheries. You can email me about it at Fish@SaltStrong.com.
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