Coastal Conservation Association tackles red tide recovery on Florida’s west coast

Brian Gorski, executive director of Coastal Conservation Association, showing off some of the thousands of redfish released recently in Tampa Bay area waters.
Brian Gorski, executive director of Coastal Conservation Association, showing off some of the thousands of redfish released recently in Tampa Bay area waters. Photo provided

The spotlight of conservation and water quality was bright on southwest Florida in 2018. Anglers, businesses, residents and more were affected by the lingering red tide and its often discussed presence in Manatee County and throughout the Tampa Bay area.

Even recently I had family coming in from out of state who asked about red tide - and if it is still around - to which I say no. That is confirmed by a “not present” from all samplings in the past eight days by FWC from Tampa Bay down to the Everglades. Either way they tell me of friends who canceled trips down to Florida fearing the worst from what they’ve heard and seen online and in the media.

One of the groups at the forefront of the red tide recovery is the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA). Executive Director Brian Gorski knows the current issues facing southwest Florida are far from over as we move forward.

“It’s such a complex issue, and there’s not a silver bullet solution,” Gorski said. “We know Lake Okeechobee doesn’t pollute itself. All together there is the contaminated and discharged water, septic tanks, biosolids being spread from municipalities in agricultural areas in the middle of the state. So much contributes to it. It’s a 100-year-old issue that’s going to take time to fix.”

As a result of the poor water quality, fish kills and decreasing catches, the CCA and FWC worked together to create a historic mid-season fishery closure last year.

The original closure saw the Manatee River as the northern boundary of catch and release redfish and snook fishing only. This was extended further north and into Tampa Bay which many anglers supported.

“We were in favor of the fish closure,” Gorski said. “We saw the devastation caused by the red tide. A number of fish species perished because of it. Not just redfish and snook but trout, mullet, other fish, mammals and birds, you name it.

“We worked with FWC to help make sure it got implemented, and it’s up for discussion again in May when FWC will review it and they’ve had time to calculate the effects. I know a lot of anglers want to see it extended. We’d also like to see the keeping of over 20-inch trout gone. Let’s leave the breeders alone.”

Looking to the future, the CCA has teamed up with Duke Energy’s Mariculture Center to begin the release of over 16,000 redfish into local waters. So far Pasco, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties have had releases of 6,000 redfish. Next up will be Manatee, Sarasota, Lee, Charlotte, and Collier counties in late February and March.

Gorski says this is part of the rebuild needed for our local fish stocks.

“It’s a small step; one redfish at a time,” Gorski said. “It’s part of the Release them for Tomorrow Initiative. We’re all recreational anglers who also like to enjoy a fish dinner. We want to make sure there are plenty of fish now so there will be plenty in the future between habitat restoration and rebuilding fish stocks.”

The annual Manatee County CCA Banquet is Feb. 28 at the Bradenton Area Convention Center. The event is used as a fundraiser to help support CCA initiatives like the redfish release or the recently constructed Larry Borden limestone rock reef. Those interested can visit http://ccaflorida.org/chapter/manatee/ to register.