When we’re not fishing we love to read about fishing. We devour articles, books, websites and blogs for enjoyment and to learn about new fisheries and ways to increase our catch. We spend a lot of time on piscatorial pursuits and a fair amount of money on our boats, tackle, flies and all the other thing we anglers just can’t live without.
I don’t see that changing anytime soon, but I do see the necessity of investing some of our time and money to help protect our passion. Fortunately, there are a lot of committed anglers out there that have our back. The other night, I was introduced to one organization of anglers that is literally fighting for the life of some of Florida’s most significant and storied fisheries.
I was attending the monthly meeting of the Mangrove Coast Fly Fishers and the program that night was a presentation by Captains for Clean Water. Co-Founder Captain Chris Whitman and Port Charlotte-based West Wall Outfitters’ owner Josh Greer laid out the mission of the organization and its importance to fishermen, tourists, residents and business owners alike.
The problem they are addressing revolves around the excess of water that has been created by years of misguided re-plumbing that was done by the Army Corp of Engineers on the sheet flow of water that traditionally flowed from Lake Kissimmee to Lake Okeechobee and then into the Everglades and Florida Bay. This natural flow was dubbed The River of Grass by author and celebrated conservationist Marjory Stoneman Douglas.
While the scope of this article is too short to address the full issue, the problem stems from an excess of water that is channeled from Lake Okeechobee to the St. Lucie Estuary, Indian River Lagoon on the east coast and to the Caloosahatchee Estuary, Pine Island Sound near Fort Myers on the west coast. In a strange twist, that water which is devastating the fishery and habitat on both coasts is starving the Everglades and Florida Bay of the fresh water that is critical for the balanced salinity necessary for the proper functioning of those estuarine ecosystems.
Whitman, a Florida native and USCG licensed Master Captain, delivered a compelling case for all anglers and concerned citizens to get involved in reaching an equitable solution to this dire problem. He had a thorough understanding of the complex ecological, political and economic issues involved and punctuated his presentation with some sobering facts.
In the past year, more acreage of seagrass was killed in Florida Bay than exists in Pine Island Sound. On the east coast, a once-vibrant seagrass area inside St. Lucie Inlet known as the Sailfish Flat is now a bare sand flat and yielding catches of fresh water tilapia. I have personally experienced these areas and remember vast seagrass flats that yielded impressive catches of sea trout, snook, tarpon and bonefish.
Greer, a third-generation Floridian, angler and business owner, punctuated the presentation with the economic impact a healthy fishery and environment have on the Florida economy. Each year, fishing, tourism and related industries generate over $76 billion in revenue and are responsible for more than 1,300,000 jobs. All are linked to the health of Florida’s estuaries and the Everglades.
Fortunately, there is a solution that will insure the health of the estuaries, the Everglades and Florida’s economy. Whitman and Greer laid out the necessary steps that can effect this change. To learn more about the problem, the solution and to lend your support, go their website. The continued vitality of Florida’s estuaries and environment depend on the involvement of passionate anglers who value this threatened resource.