Red tide is still hanging around Manatee County’s coastline, making waters murky and beach conditions unpleasant.
There are a lot fewer dead fish floating in the water, though.
That is thanks in part to local fisherman Nathan Meschelle, who operates a commercial fishing operation called Inseine Fish Harvest out of Palma Sola.
Knowing that he would be temporarily out of work when red tide arrived, Meschelle called Manatee commissioner Carol Whitmore and offered to help clean up in the aftermath.
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“We wanted to provide a cleaning service for the waterways, which are not easily accessible to their workers, stuff that’s not on the beach,” Meschelle said. “The canals and shorelines where there’s mass amounts of carnage decaying and making it smell bad.”
“He called and said we can’t work right now, so if there’s anything that we can do, let us know,” Whitmore said.
Whitmore contacted county officials and mayors of the coastal cities and gave them Meschelle’s contact info.
Dean Jones, public works manager for the city of Anna Maria, reached out right away. The city needed help cleaning up the waterfront, especially around the site of the recently demolished Anna Maria city pier.
“The city (of Anna Maria) is trying to do our part in coordination with the other agencies in the county,” Jones said. “We saw an opportunity to really get the bay side cleaned up for our part.”
Meschelle and friend Michael Dolan got to work collecting the smelly harvest of dead sea life pooling on the waterfront and in canals.
“We wanted as much of the carnage out of the way as possible as well as the sea grass that had carnage in it,” Jones said. “They mobilized and came in here with a couple of boats and the equipment that they needed and did a fantastic job.”
Meshcelle, 27, has been commercial fishing since he was in high school. His friends call him “Toasty,” referencing his constant tan.
Meschelle says this red tide outbreak is not so bad compared to others he has witnessed.
“On a scale of one to 10, I’d give it a three,” Meschelle said. “I grew up on Bradenton Beach. I remember there being a lot more dead fish in the past.”
Meschelle and Dolan worked for two days sifting through sea grass and taking forkloads of fish out of the water. Most were grunts, but there were a few bigger fish like grouper in the mix.
As of Friday, Jones says the beach still looks fantastic on the bay side.
Meschelle said he hopes their efforts give people a different perspective on people who fish for a living.
“A lot of people misunderstand what we do, our way of living,” Meschelle said. “We care about the environment just as much if not more than anybody else out there.”
For Whitmore it is a way to get some good out of a bad situation.
“The Cortez fisherman are very important to this community, and they stepped up,” Whitmore said. “It’s going to be a win-win for the county, the cities and for the fisherman who can still make some kind of living. They need the money, we need the help.”
Dean echoes those sentiments.
“It’s a small community, Cortez and the three island cities,” Jones said. “The two economies that really matter around here are fishing and the tourist industry. Something like this has a impact on both of them. Any time that we can help people like that, we like to.”
Meschelle is on standby if clean up is needed again.
“Hopefully nothing else happens and we can go back fishing,” Meschelle said.