Florida Weekly: Fishing Guides on the Frontline for Promoting Clean Water

ON THE WATER


They see it. They smell it. They speak out. The befouled water affects their livelihoods and Florida’s economy and environment.

“It’s spinning out of control,” said Mr. Faulkner, an Everglades fishing guide who has guided for more than 25 years.

The problem of toxic algae blooms extends far beyond the Southwest Florida coast and the Caloosahatchee and its estuaries. The stench of the dirty water has infested Cape Coral canals. It’s also a problem on Florida’s east coast in places such as the St. Lucie River.

Mr. Wittman is on the board of directors of Captains for Clean Water. He knows what the toxic algae blooms means to what he and other fishing guides do for a living.

“It definitely impacts our business,” Mr. Wittman said.

Both guides know the impact extends far beyond their own wallets.

The first paragraph of the 13-paragraph Captains for Clean Water founding statement on its website spells out the problem in stark words: “On average, billions of gallons of nutrient-laden fresh water flow into our lower estuaries via the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers every day. … The nutrients, and other pollutants, enter our waters through agricultural and urban areas in the center of the state, mostly north of Lake Okeechobee.”

Fishing guides spend a great deal of time on the water, both saltwater and freshwater. They can’t help but see what is going on.

“There have been undeniable signs of diminished water quality all along the coast,” Mr. Faulkner said.

Fishing guides know their customers are well aware of the blooms and red tide. In many cases potential customers far away from Florida know about it through news reports and social media posts.

“They don’t want to go out and be around it,” Mr. Wittman said of potential tourists thinking about visiting a state where the algae blooms and red tide soils Florida waters.

If the situation doesn’t keep people away it may have another long-term impact on tourists.

“Cutting visits short,” Mr. Wittman said.

Fishing guides worry about what it will mean to their profession in particular and for Florida’s prime tourism energy — tourism.

“It’s just a nightmare for fishing and tourism,” Mr. Faulkner said.

But, Mr. Faulkner added, his fishing business doesn’t depend on random folks popping in or visiting his website.

“My business does not rely on tourism,” Mr. Faulkner said.

That’s not the case with all guides.

“A big portion of fishing guide business is tourists,” Mr. Wittman said.

So, what is the future?

“The future is trying to identify a clear path to Everglades restoration,” Mr. Faulkner said.

He sees an example far to the north that could be encouraging. That example is Lake Erie. The Lake Erie Waterkeepers website notes that in the 1970s that Great Lake was “said to have died.”

Lake Erie is now alive and vibrant and known as the Walleye Capital of the World.

“It was a wasteland,” Mr. Faulkner said.

Not now.

“That was just through proper management,” Mr. Faulkner said.

It certainly wasn’t easy cleaning up Lake Erie but Mr. Faulkner is heartened to know how that body of water and its ecosystem were revived.

“Desperate measures have to be taken,” Mr. Faulkner said.