The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 16 No. 51 - October 19, 2016

reel time

Red tide

Reel time

captain rUSTY CHINNIS | SUn

Taking care of our waters leads to healthy stocks like
Captain Rick Grassett's nice Jack.



Red tide has once again invaded local waters. While this episode hasn't been nearly as severe as the last persistent red tide of 2005-2006, it's still killed a number of fish and required anglers to be creative when searching out action. Hopefully, this red tide won't be lost on residents and businesses up and down Florida's west coast that haven't experienced this natural malady in nearly 10 years. Those who have been around long enough appreciate both the natural occurrence of the bloom and the human inputs that exacerbate it. In the recent past, red tide outbreaks have been minimal and were more of a temporary annoyance with minimal affect on locals and unlucky tourists.

For those who were lucky enough to miss it, the 2005-2006 episode made it clear that the bloom has the potential to negatively affect everyone – tourists, business owners, restaurateurs, real estate agents, developers and anglers. Having said that, savvy anglers have shown that red tides may even in a way help anglers find fish that have been concentrated in areas not affected by the tide.

"The red tide causes us to fish differently," say Captain Scott Moore. "Baitfish is hard to keep alive, requiring us to switch to artificial lures and live shrimp."

"Red tide usually doesn't blanket an entire area," says Captain Rick Grassett. "It is usually patchy and may be strong enough to kill fish in one area but not another. It starts by killing smaller baitfish and fish that are found near the bottom of the water column, such as catfish, puffers, etc. when concentrations become strong enough to kill fish.

"Larger fish may sense it and move away to areas that are unaffected or have lower concentrations, so it may concentrate fish in other areas. To complicate things, fish may be killed in an area, and the wind blows them to another area that is unaffected.

"I look for baitfish and watch behavior of birds to determine if an area is being affected by red tide. Rafted up birds may indicate dying fish, otherwise, just because there are dead fish, doesn't mean there is red tide. If I see baitfish and or predators, I know that I am in an unaffected area."

Being familiar with local waters helps guides like Moore and Grassett find fish for their clients, despite the bloom's occurrence.

The message is clear: red tide is here to stay and is a part of the area's ecosystem. The environment has a remarkable ability to rebound from even the most persistent outbreaks, and during the worst of blooms, knowledgeable anglers continue to find fish. The flip side of the equation is that human activities continue to stress the local environment, and impact the recuperative power of the ecosystem.

Loss of habitat, storm water runoff, phosphate and agricultural wastes, and sewage discharge all degrade the water and the sea grass beds that naturally clean the water column. The time when we can use the resource and not be stewards is over. We all need to get involved in the solution on the local, state and national level.

So what can the average person do? Start right at home by being aware of what you put on your lawns and flush down your drains and toilets. Inevitably these things find their way back into our waters. Beyond that, get involved on the community, county, state and national level. Write letters, attend county commission meetings and demand that politicians institute policies that help protect our waters.

The bottom line is that the red tide is a natural phenomenon that is not likely to disappear from local waters, but it doesn't mean you have to hang up your rod.

AMISUN ~ The Island's Award-Winning Newspaper