What You Need to Know on How Politics are Destroying our Fisheries


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.

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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.

Red Tide

Dead Goliath Grouper form Red Tide

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

Lake Okeechobee Toxic Water Discharge

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

Red Tide and Lake Okochobee Discharges
Photo Source: http://eyeonmiami.blogspot.com/2013/09/apologists-for-big-sugar-ignore-facts.html

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:

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Politics: Florida in Crisis

Red Tide Fish Kill

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.

Lake Okeechobee green canal 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

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.

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The Fish Strong Podcast: How Politics are Having Massive Impacts on Fishing

Lake Okeechobee Water Flow

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.

fish strong podcast

stitcher fish strong podcast

Note: Don’t forget to SUBSCRIBE to the Fish Strong podcast on iTunes or Google Play.

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The Bigger Picture: Get Kids Fishing

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.

Learn more about the Insider Fishing Club


No Red Tide at Sanibel Island

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.

Tight Lines!

Related Post: 

1. The Biggest Threats To Our Oceans & Fisheries (2018)

2. The Biggest Threat To The Future Of Fishing In America

3. 9 Amazing Reasons To Teach Your Kids How To Fish


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Article Sources:

1. https://mote.org/news/florida-red-tide

2. https://captainsforcleanwater.org/water-quality-conservation/

3. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-of-science/wp/2018/08/14/red-tide-algaes-deadly-trail-of-marine-animals-has-triggered-a-state-of-emergency-in-florida/

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Capt Pete Rosko
5 years ago

Party does matter for this 81 year old angler. For years, magazines like Sports Afield would grade Us Senators on the environment and fisheries. I do not remember seeing a Republican with a grade higher than C-. Conversely, the average grade for the Democrats was B+. Scott was a terrible governor for clean waters. He never replied to my letters to him. I like Rubio. Finally, I want to compliment you on on the text and graphics explaining this environmental nightmare we have in South Florida. Pete (Capt Pete Rosko / Rapala)

PS Regarding Pacific NW salmon…For 38 years, my summer passion is chinook jigging (Crippled Herring & Kandlefish metal jigs.) off Port Angeles, WA. The chinook salmon fishery has been superb. It has been caused by deep updwelling of nutrients being pushed northward from the South Pacific. This is expected to last another 2 1/2 to 3 years.. Merry Christmas to all!

Christopher Magruder
5 years ago

Here in Virginia Beach, the Brackish river system (Elizabeth River) is terrible due to all the businesses and people that have polluted the waterways. I believe the last time I check the river water quality report was at a D or and E (A being the best).

A topic that might be good to cover is what people can do to help around the community besides being in the political forefront. To better restore the river back to its glory, “The Elizabeth River Project” have been establish to make strides in making the river cleaner and protecting the shorelines so that we can enjoy the river indefinitely. Maybe there is someone locally in FL that can speak to this topic in another podcast. (https://www.elizabethriver.org/about-us)

Dan Friberg
5 years ago

Hi ,All you water lovers in Fl. . A few groups are not going to be able to fight all the big money Cos. that don’t care about our water . Its going to take all of us to make a difference ,talk is cheap ,all that counts is money in the end .We need to make the Govt. stop the big money kill our water,and make all the BIG money we spend making a living and having fun on it count .Its way past time to make it happen ,before we lose our resources for good .Lake O has to be cleaned up and the water shed be able to flow south into the Glades to filter the water .That’s just one of the things we have to make happen .We have to do this now ! So help in any way you can ,as a large combined group we can change the way things are going !!!!

Richard Krenzer
5 years ago

I can’t believe any of the campaign ads. Who should we vote for?

Ricki Dee
5 years ago

Rick Scott doesn’t believe in climate change/global warming. Way past time for Democrats to STOP blaming Republicans (and visa versa) and Florida blaming Washington, D.C. (and visa versa) and START mitigating the VERY SERIOUS water quality issues in Florida. Way past time that politicians WORK TOGETHER, and Florida and U.S. gov’t. agencies WORK TOGETHER , to “stop the bleeding”.

5 years ago

It’s truly criminal what our politicians are doing to ensure they keep getting elected & re-elected by accepting huge amounts of money from Big Sugar and agriculture interests who could care less what the effect on our waters are.

For Rick Scott to be running ads blaming Bill Nelson is truly laughable. This is a Florida problem, not a Washington, D.C. problem and the blames lies with Florida politicians who turn a blind eye to what’s happening with our waters and refuse to do anything about it out of fear that the money will stop flowing into their campaigns.


Phillip Stoess
5 years ago

Hello Friends,
I have been following “red tides” since I move to FL in 2005. I have noticed the frequency of and longevity of “red tide” increase and I fully support anyone who can educate the good voters of FL to putting this natural phenomena back into its natural state.
“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.” Joseph Simonds on August 22, 2018
This is a common reality when we have to rely on state and federal government to take notice and make changes. It is not reality that a few articles and post will change it on their own. And I don’t believe a few political figures waiving their hands with empty promises will give us any permanent change. It seems to be a continual plug up a murky river.
I am a new member to Salt Strong from Inverness and I like more and more of what I see on the fun stuff and on the not so fun stuff; both of which are very important. Thanks for getting involved and keep putting the word out. Anything worth having is worth fighting for . I will be watching to see how I can help.
phil stoess

John Crongeyer
5 years ago

“business-friendly’ political policies will mean nothing in Florida if its at the expense of our water.

Gary Rankel
5 years ago

Kudos to Saltstrong for highlighting this issue. My letter to the editor published in today’s Citrus County Chronicle did the same, and I’ll be highlighting this horrific problem in a kayak fishing guide for Citrus County that I’m currently working on. Hopefully, our efforts can succeed in swaying more voters to cast ballots for environmentally conscious candidates in the upcoming election. Thanks much for your efforts.


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