Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Bad Water Kills Tarpon

Bad water management kills tarpon fisheryPublished by news-press.com on July 25, 2005 PETE QUASIUS Guest opinion DELIVERING YOUR WORLD Subscribe to The News-Press Signup for daily email news Printer friendly version Email this article Is the death of what was one of the biggest tourist events for Southwest Florida, and at least part of the basis for our claim as the fishing capital of the world, yet one more result from the mismanagement of the South Florida Water Management District officials?The world's richest tarpon tournament, which since the 1980s brought millions of tourist dollars to our economy each year is no more, due to lack of tarpon in Boca Grande.Five years ago, the tidal estuary of the Caloosahatchee teemed with thousands and thousands of juvenile tarpon and a large population of resident mature fish. I suspect that they, like the migratory tarpon, massed in Boca Grande to feed on ghost crabs which appeared in the pass each June and fueled tarpon fishermen's dreams and a late season tourist economy. The destruction of the Caloosahatchee sea grasses by the huge dump of water from Lake Okeechobee five years ago, and mismanagement since which has precluded any recovery of the aquatic vegetation, marked the start of the rapid decline of the local tarpon population.Today, areas that used to be churned to foam by feeding tarpon only a few years ago are black and flat. Where there used to be multiple schools of fish chasing bait across the flats, now the surface is broken only occasionally by a fresh water turtle or a large alligator (There don't seem to be many small ones in the river anymore). I don't know if water management and use in Charlotte Harbor also has resulted in the decline of the ghost crabs, but it doesn't really matter if there are only few fish to feed on them.I do know that the once vast quantity of bait fish and blue crabs in the upper tidal Caloosahatchee are gone and so are the tarpon.In any ecosystem there is seldom one cause for a significant change, but the link to clouds of deadly black water in the Gulf; the increasingly frequent, severe and prolonged red tides; a significant change in the salinity in the upper tidal estuary and the resulting changes in this once productive marine nursery; and the constant strong current (billions of gallons a day of black, nutrient-rich runoff from Lake Okeechobee) certainly appears to the result of SFWMD policy and mismanagement. The water used to go south, now if flows into our local waterways in huge quantities even during the "dry" season and it is flushing away our sport fish along with our economy.It's no wonder the tarpon no longer live or visit here. Will we wait until the tourists no longer visit too before we demand a change in water management policy? A few months ago the Lee County commissioners asked Lee Smart Growth Director, Wayne Daltry to collect the data to make the case for protection of our environment and economy from the SFWMD. Send Mr. Daltry your contribution — facts, observations or anecdotes — to help him make the case at wdaltry@leegov.com— Capt. Pete Quasius is tarpon guide. He lives in Fort Myers.

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