Red tide taking a big bite out of business on Anna Maria Island

On the northeast side of the Cortez Bridge, a bright blue house that holds a surf and paddle shop was dark and closed Friday afternoon.

But after ringing the bell at the front door to the Cortez Surf and Paddle shop, owner Dan Neumann walked down and explained he was taking the day off. Partially, he said, because of red tide, but also because he’s got some other work to get done around the shop and house.

Neumann said his business has “100 percent” been affected by red tide.

“We would have been relying very greatly on the last two weeks of summer because once school starts that just kills it all,” he said.

The first day signs of red tide showed up to Anna Maria Island, Neumann said he and his wife, who co-owns the shop with him, turned away 30 to 40 customers.

“I don’t wanna go on it, I don’t want my pet near it,” he said, motioning to a small red heeler mix, named Red, roaming inside the store. “We’re not about to risk putting any of our customers out on the water.”

Neumann said over the past week, they’ve allowed customers to rent bicycles, but they have not been going out on the water.

Neumann and his wife have had their business in the bright blue building along Cortez Road with manatee mailboxes out front for a year now. He said they came to Manatee County after trying to sell a previous rental business they owned for six years that was affected by toxic blue-green algae.

“We ran from the water over there, but red tide is like a mosquito compared to that stuff,” Neumann said. “We love it over here, and we wish that certainly it wasn’t happening but it’s just another one of those speed bumps. We’re dealing with it as best as possible.”

Despite the impact it’s had on his business, Neumann said he’s glad the red tide struck when it did — during a time of year when business would normally be slow anyway.

Shane Catts, co-founder of Happy Paddler Kayaks, said in a voicemail message to the Bradenton Herald his business is suffering an “extreme hardship” because of the red tide.

“We’re completely grounded,” Catts said. “We’ve lost the last month of season.”

In the dock outside of the Waterline Resort in Holmes Beach, three people climbed aboard a charter boat Friday morning with the help of Captain Curtis Hightower.

Hightowner, a captain for Egmont Key Adventures, said despite red tide, they are still running charter boat trips every day, they just have to make some adjustments.

“When the high tides come in the Passage Key area we’ll get floating fish, we’re not getting red tide but we’re getting floating fish. So it’s not a pleasant place to be because of the fish floating, but the water quality is fine,” Hightower said.

He goes out on the water every morning to check the conditions before taking customers on his boat. Egmont Key, he said, has been “fantastic” so far, and he hopes it stays that way.

In conversations with other charter businesses, Hightower said he’s heard of a few more cancellations by customers.

“But most of the charters, especially the fishing captains, they’re having great fishing,” Hightower said.

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At least one island fishing and bait shop has seen a decrease in business and an increase in conversation about the waters.

JT Fagley, a cashier at Keys Marina Island Discount Tackle, said they also run some charters and said they haven’t felt the effect as much.

“Fishing is still good,” Fagley said. “We try to tell (customers) even with red tide, fish will still bite. They’re still around.”

Fagley said it has been a little slower in the shop than usual since signs of red tide hit Anna Maria Island.

“People are more inquisitive, “ Fagley said of customers curious about conditions. “Lots of questions.”

He’s not alone. Hightower is also having several conversations with customers, working to educate them about red tide.

Shawn Duytschaver, owner of the Surfer Bus that parks along the causeway on Manatee Avenue and rents kayaks and standup paddleboards, said rentals from the bus haven’t suffered much from red tide because they stick to the waters in Robinson Preserve, which he said haven’t been affected.

He said his shop on the island, however, has seen a drop in sales.

More dead fish on beaches

Dead fish littered Gulf of Mexico coast beaches on Anna Maria Island on Friday. Manatee County crews early Friday morning reported Coquina Beach up to Bean Point were “heavy” with fish. Crews worked to clean the shorelines, starting at the north end of the island and working their way south, and would be available to clean until 7 p.m.

On the bay side, county officials reported “moderate” levels of dead fish at Bayfront Park. A boat ramp at Coquina had nearly no dead fish floating at the ramp. Staring at the Intracoastal Waterway from the pier at the end of Bridge Street, a few dead fish could be seen floating in the water, but very few had been caught at the shoreline.

At Rod ‘n’ Reel pier Friday, only one dead fish was spotted around 9 a.m.

Waters on both sides of the island appeared dark but the smell associated with red tide was noticeable on the Gulf coast at Cortez Beach and Coquina Beach.

Just before 11 a.m. Friday, the Mote Marine Laboratory beach conditions report for Coquina Beach showed “intense” respiratory irritation, heavy amounts of dead fish, dark water and no crowds. On Manatee Beach, just before 10 a.m., Mote officials reported “moderate” respiratory irritation, heavy dead fish, dark water and few crowds.

By 1 p.m., Manatee County officials said crews cleaned Coquina and Cortez beaches were working north from Coquina Pass. In the afternoon, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission released an updated status report that detailed eight sample results ranging from very low to high concentrations of the Karenia brevis red tide algae bloom in Manatee.

In an update released Friday afternoon, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials say eight samples taken in Manatee County waters revealed very low to high concentrations of the Karenia brevis, the red tide algae strain. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Hightower said he expects beaches to have dead fish during high tide in the morning, but he said he’s seeing dead fish that are “old.” He noted someone caught a snook in the marina near Waterline Resort Thursday, which — to him — is a good sign.

“This is pretty stagnant water in here so for that fish to be in here, that tells me that the actual quality of the water is OK,” Hightower said.

At least one beach wedding went on Friday, despite the array of dead fish on the shoreline.

Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce president Terri Kinder said they have had some members who are photographers or officiants tell the chamber ceremonies that have been booked have gone forward but they don’t know if that’s true for every wedding planned on the island.