Lake Okeechobee water releases impacting SWFL tourism

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SANIBEL, Fla.- Florida Senator Bill Nelson is filing new legislation on Tuesday to speed up Everglades restoration projects in an attempt to combat the Lake Okeechobee water releases turning water off the coast of Southwest Florida brown, and threatening the ecosystem and the economy.

“It’s tough fishing in a toilet bowl,” said Captain John Stark as he described the local waterways after more freshwater releases from Lake Okeechobee. “The bait fish are not in the same areas, they can’t live in fresh water. They need to be in salt water, so they are all pushed in certain areas and the grass- they are hyper saline plants- they need to be in salt water. If they are in fresh water, they die.”

Stark is taking a client out near Sanibel Island on Tuesday and hopes to reel in some success. But the biologist knows the murky fresh water makes that more difficult, hurting his bottom line and the entire fishing industry.

“Yesterday I caught a black bass up in a salt water area and it’s a freshwater fish and it looked really bad, it’s fins were all beat up, I’ve never seen anything like it,” Stark said.

He adds if they’re not catching fish, tourists won’t come back, and now’s the time to come together and find a solution.

“It’s not a priority, obviously, and until things change, it’s just gonna get worse,” Stark said.

Stark also points out Southwest Florida sees some of the water releases during the summer when the lake gets full, but not during season when there are so many more people in our area.

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