Special license sought to lessen red tide fish kills

red tide fishing license exception
Commercial fisherman John Banyas first proposed limited red tide fishing exceptions during an Aug. 14 meeting with local restaurant owners and managers. - Joe Hendricks | Sun

BRADENTON BEACH – Cortez fisherman and businessman John Banyas is seeking a state-issued special activity license allowing him a greater ability to harvest mullet and threadfin herring when those species are threatened by red tide.

Banyas will ask the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) for the special license, and the city of Bradenton Beach has agreed to serve as the applicant and license holder for those efforts.

“My concern is to utilize the fish before they are wasted,” Banyas said when addressing the Bradenton Beach commission on Thursday, Sept. 6. “It’s like you were fish farming and knowing you were going to lose the oxygen in your fish ponds. A prudent farmer would harvest those fish before they die and go to waste.”

Banyas first proffered this idea during an Aug. 14 gathering of local restauranteurs. He then requested and received letters of support from the Manatee County Commission and Congressman Vern Buchanan. He’s also reached out to State Sen. Bill Galvano.

Banyas owns Cortez Bait & Seafood, Killer Bait, Gulfstream Boats Inc., the Swordfish Grill, N.E. Taylor Boatworks and the restaurant space leased to the Cortez Kitchen – all in Cortez.

He told the Bradenton Beach commission that a special activity license permit can only be issued to a municipality or a research or educational organization. He said he sought the city’s assistance because he was born and raised there – and the village of Cortez does not have its own city government.

On Sept. 26, Banyas will attend the FWC Commission meeting in Tallahassee in hopes of presenting a special licensing request that if approved would allow him and his crew to use a 500-square-foot nylon net with a two-to-four-and-a-half-inch mesh size to harvest mullet. He also seeks permission to use, at one mile out, the one-inch mesh purse seine nets he’s allowed to use at three miles out. Banyas seeks these temporary and limited provisions for waters within five miles of a red tide outbreak or an anticipated outbreak, as determined by FWC.

“This five-mile radius can be adjusted within 24-to-48 hours,” Banyas said.

“It’s only going to be the mullet and the thread herring. This gear catches a designated species. There’s no indirect catch of any other species. I would encourage FWC to provide a marine biologist observer to ride with me to see first-hand what is occurring, and in predicting these fish die-offs,” he said.

If issued, the special activity license would allow Banyas to harvest mullet and thread herring in any state water being threatened by red tide, as determined FWC. This would include Sarasota Bay.

“If red tide was here on Bradenton Beach and St. Pete was clean, clear and fresh, I couldn’t go over there. I would be bound to be within a five-mile radius within the red tide. It would have to be fish that are in jeopardy of dying,” Banyas said.

“Right now, this might not help us because all our fish are dead. This will potentially help in other areas as the red tide continues to travel north. The red tide is moving more over to Hillsborough and Pinellas counties,” he said.

Banyas seeks a one-time license that would expire on Dec. 31 but potentially establish a permitting precedent for future years.

“If all this doesn’t work this year, I’ve made ground getting through to them. If we’ve got to do it the next time this happens, the groundwork is set. We know red tide is going to come back, and I’d like to utilize the resource before they die the next time red tide is present,” Banyas said.

To protect the city from liability concerns, City Attorney Ricinda Perry recommended the city be added to Banyas’ insurance policy and that Banyas and the city enter into an indemnification and hold harmless agreement that relieves the city of any liability related to Banyas’ fishing activities. Banyas agreed to those terms.

After further discussion, the commission unanimously supported Commissioner Jake Spooner’s motion to authorize Banyas to apply for a special activity license using the city of Bradenton Beach as the applicant and license holder and to perform work under the license, if approved, as a non-exclusive contractor.

Banyas was asked later if he expects pushback from the recreational fishing community.

“I couldn’t see why, because who wants to waste the fish? I just want the mullet and the thread herring. Why sit there and watch them die and worry about cleaning them up and or the carcasses going to the bottom and creating bacteria that contaminate the water. I’m not out to change the law, it’s just to catch the fish before they die,” he said.

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