MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Local fisherman in northern Manatee County have started noticing an unwelcome sight out on the water — dead fish.
Multiple fish kills have been reported to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in the last several days. 8 On Your Side took to the water with fishermen who frequent the area and found dozens of silver specks on the surface of Tampa Bay with the majority being nearby Port Manatee and Piney Point.
“It seems like mullet are the main things floating, but there is a lot of pinfish and catfish and a few ladyfish. There is a variety of species, but mullet and pinfish seem to be the two largest,” said commercial fisherman Rod Griffon.
The fish kills are being reported in the same area experiencing low to medium concentrations of red tide.
“In my lifetime, I have never seen a red tide come into Tampa Bay like it is right now. I don’t know if it’s coming in from the outside or if it’s what has developed from the spill, but there is definitely something killing a lot of fish around the Port Manatee area,” said Griffon.
Researchers with the University of South Florida have been using computer models to track the pollutant plume from Piney Point since March 30. A few weeks ago, they told 8 On Your Side they couldn’t link the spill at Piney Point to any of the algal blooms popping up around the area.
Some locals, however, think otherwise.
“FWC recently did some red tide testing north and south of Bishop Harbor and when you look at their test sites and their findings, and then you lay that over top of the current model that USF puts out with the projection of this outflow, it looks like Piney Point is the cause. Again, I have never seen red tide in Tampa Bay like this, ” said longtime local Brad Johnson. “What is the truth, we don’t even really know. So, what we see is what we know,” he continued.
The director of Sarasota Bay’s Estuary Program feels the excess nutrients from Piney Point are exacerbating blooms across the area, including blue-green algae blooms which he says are overwhelming waterways further south in Manatee County.
“It is blooming in abundances that people have not seen before. I have been working in this area for 30 years and I have never seen it this bad. You always see it, but not this bad,” said David Tomasko.
Tomasko says the fish kills and excess algal blooms are not a good indicator of the health of our waterways.
“It’s not good. This is the time of the year when our water quality should be fantastic. Our water should look blue and clear. This is a time where the baitfish are running, this is the best time of the year,” said Tomasko. “Now we are going to go into the rainy season with a bay that looks like this… It’s not… I don’t know, I don’t know how this thing is going to go,” he continued.
Fisherman we spoke with are trying to stay hopeful.
“Let’s hope it doesn’t get any worse,” said Johnson.