Special Reports

Manatee's fishermen ready to help in clean-up

BRADENTON — As perhaps the worst spill in U.S. history keeps spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico, local fishermen and businesses are looking to pitch in with the relief effort.

“They’re all talking about it — all trying to figure out if there’s something they can go do,” said Karen Bell, office manager for A.P. Bell Fish Co. in the fishing village of Cortez.

The oil slick from the explosion of the oil rig Deepwater Horizon has yet to reach the Florida coastline. But with livelihoods and the future of marine life on the line, local boaters are already on alert.

Glenn Brooks, president of the Gulf Fishermen’s Association in Clearwater, said he has submitted an e-mail offering the use of more than 200 local fishing vessels, all of which are willing to do whatever is necessary.

“We’ve got vessels from small pontoons and skiffs up to 60-foot offshore commercial fishing vessels,” he said. “We’re offering boats and manpower.”

Bryan Ibasfalean, vice president of Sunshine Dock & Seawall, a marine construction business out of Cortez, is teaming with A.P. Bell, the Gulf Fishermen’s Association and the Southern Offshore Fishing Association in Madeira Beach by offering eight vessels to the effort.

Despite the disaster’s potential effect on the local wildlife, John Moore, manager of the Star Fish Company Market and Restaurant in Cortez, said business hasn’t changed any — much to the surprise of customers.

“Some customers have been coming in and saying, ‘You’re not sold out yet?’” Moore said. “Some places in the Panhandle, people said they’re buying a lot of seafood and freezing it.”

Russell Rhoden, a 10-year employee at The Cortez Kitchen, said the same thing — though he said The Cortez Kitchen is no longer purchasing oysters from Louisiana, where oil has washed up on shore.

If oil does reach the Florida shores, Ibasfalean said the biggest thing is to keep the oil out of the mangrove estuaries — habitats for many organisms.

“Everything grows up in there — grouper, snapper, everything,” he said.

Capt. Ric Liles, out of Ruskin, agreed, especially since mangrove estuaries have intricate roots.

“If the oil gets in the mangroves,” he said, “you won’t be able to get it out like you can clean oil off a beach.”

Booms can be used for keeping the estuaries oil-free. These structures would serve as dams, blocking the oil from getting in and contaminating the wildlife.

And oil can contaminate wildlife, said Carli Segelson, spokesperson for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. It can be deadly to species such as birds and fish, especially if ingested, including dehydration, irritation to the lining of the mouth and, ultimately, death.

Fish reproduction can be hampered by oil, which can also be deadly to sea life such as sea turtles, crustaceans, mollusks and manatees.

Ibasfalean said local vessels haven’t been called into action yet, but owners are hoping to organize local staging areas out of Cortez and Anna Maria Island just in case.

“As of now, nothing is spreading this way,” he said. “We’re going to wait until we’re called.”

John Lembo, Bradenton Herald sports reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7080, ext. 2097.

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