Cortez fishermen assist with red tide cleanup

Red Tide Cortez Fishermen
Cortez fishermen Michael Dolan and Nathan Meschelle began cleaning this stretch of Anna Maria beach Wednesday morning. – Joe Hendricks | Sun

ANNA MARIA – The city of Anna Maria called upon Cortez fishermen Nathan Meschelle and Michael Dolan to help remove dead fish that littered the city shoreline because of red tide.

Meschelle and Dolan spent Wednesday, Aug. 8 and Thursday, Aug. 9 removing dead fish and seagrass from the public beach near the now-demolished Anna Maria City Pier from the Lake La Vista Inlet southeast to Magnolia Avenue.

This mutually beneficial relationship sprang from a conversation Meschelle had with Island resident and Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore.

“Nate contacted me and asked how he could help so I called the local governments and told them they were available. It’s a private-public partnership and we’re helping some fishermen get some work right now,” Whitmore said.

“I reached out to Carol and told her that due to the conditions the fishermen are out of work and we would like to do what we can to help the community. At the same time, maybe the cities or county can help us get through these hard times,” Meschelle said.

Meschelle and Dolan arrived early Wednesday morning by boat aboard a custom Carolina skiff with a smaller flat skiff in tow. Using pitchforks, they tossed the natural debris into the smaller skiff and later transferred it to a dumpster to be hauled off by Waste Management. They were also asked to remove a section of temporary shoreline fencing installed to protect turtles during the recent pier demolition. The fencing was ensnaring dead fish and seagrass.

“We’re trying to get what we can cleaned off the beach. If we do get another bad push of fish we won’t have all this grass and it’ll be easier for us to clean up,” Meschelle said, while noting the possibility of a west wind bringing more dead fish ashore later in the week.

Meschelle and Dolan said they saw gag grouper, trout, grunts, eels and more on the beach, but they also saw signs of possible improvement.

“The water color’s better today. There’s baitfish along the beach too,” said Dolan, who was wearing a facemask and a protective sport hat that covered his head and neck.

Meschelle and Dolan are both members of the Organized Fishermen of Florida and Meschelle wore a hat bearing the organization’s logo.

“There’s anchovies and sheepshead on the rocks right here,” Meschelle said, pointing to the jetty.

“We thought it was complete wipeout, so this is a good sign,” Dolan added.

“I traditionally bait fish offshore and the bait fish are virtually non-existent. I think that’s where most of the red tide is lingering. I have friends that are still trying to bait fish and they’re having to fish off of Clearwater. Down this way, it’s just a dead zone as soon as you get out there a mile and half and up to six miles out,” Meschelle said.

“The offshore fisheries that include your grouper and snapper at 10 miles out  plus are still good. The fishery was amazing right before this happened,” Dolan noted.

Meschelle also contacted Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie and offered their services and the services of additional Cortez fishermen should they be needed on the south end of the Island.

Cooperative efforts

Public Works Manager Dean Jones stopped by Wednesday morning to assess the work underway.

“There’s still fish out there that are going to keep floating up. I’m going to monitor the beach and when I think there’s another day’s worth of work they can come back and clean the beach again. It’s an ongoing thing and we’ve got a long-term plan that I feel very good about,” Jones said.

“I’ve also got to give kudos to the county. They helped clean up Bayfront Park and Mark Taylor has been running his tractor up and down the beach. As far as I know, he’s been going from Coquina Beach all the way to Bean Point. There’s been really good coordination between the cities and the county and there’s a lot of players making this work,” Jones said.

During Thursday night’s City Commission meeting, Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy praised the cleanup efforts.

Red Tide Clean Beach
On Thursday evening, this stretch of bayside beach in Anna Maria contained few, if any, dead fish. – Joe Hendricks | Sun

“Commissioner Carol Whitmore was coordinating cleanup efforts in her role as TDC (Tourist Development Council) chair. She made the suggestion that we find these Cortez fishermen who are out of work because of red tide. These guys really did a commendable job. They charged us $1,000, which I think is a more than reasonable rate,” Murphy said.

“It’s a symbiotic story: they needed work and we needed fish picked up. They had a boat and the equipment to do it and we didn’t have the workforce to do it. It really worked out nice,” Murphy said.

Red tide wedding

A return visit to the cleaned beach right after Thursday’s meeting resulted in an encounter with a couple from Louisville, Ky. who had just gotten married on the beach, joined by family members.

“I wanted to be barefoot in the sand,” said the new bride, Karen (Armstrong) Focht. “We scoured the beaches all week and decided on here.”

The newlyweds said the conditions that night were better than they were earlier in the week and the red tide did not delay their nuptials.

“This is the day we planned,” Don Focht said.

“Our grandchildren could come at this time and we needed them here,” Karen added.

Red Tide Wedding
This Thursday evening beach wedding party included, from left, Gary Carrasco, Anita Carrasco, the groom, Don Focht, the bride, Karen (Armstrong) Focht, Zoey Carrasco, Alex Carrasco and Stephanie Williams. – Joe Hendricks | Sun

Lying on the sand nearby as sunset approached were Hannah Tredyew and Shanti Clawson from Colorado.

“We actually didn’t know about it until we got here last night. When we were checking out at Walgreen’s the lady told us to be careful about the red tide,” Tredyew said.

“We knew it was south of here, but I didn’t think it was here yet,” Clawson said.

Clawson said they started their day near the Bradenton Beach-Holmes Beach border.

“We went to watch the sunrise this morning and there was like five feet of dead fish going down the coastline. It was crazy. They had a huge dumpster that was labeled ‘fish only,’ ” she said.

“We didn’t think it was that bad, but people running the stores said, ‘Don’t go to the beach.’ I did have a strong histamine response this morning. I started feeling like I was having allergies and I usually don’t,” Tredyew said.

Red Tide Visitors
Colorado visitors Hannah Tredyew and Shanti Clawson enjoyed a clean beach Thursday evening. – Joe Hendricks | Sun

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