NOAA teams up with SWFL fishermen to combat red tide

Reporter: Gina Tomlinson Writer: Jack Lowenstein
Published: Updated:
FILE Photo of fish kill caused by red tide. Credit: WINK News.

Red tide devastated fish populations in the Gulf of Mexico last summer. These are the kind of dead fish nobody hoped for, especially fishermen. It’s a crisis the industry is still recovering from.

A major agency is stepping in to help fishermen put the water quality crisis behind them and move forward.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration plans to team up with local fishermen to dive deeper into red tide research.

“It was nice to finally hear that hey we’re going to help you guys because this was a natural disaster,” fisherman Eddie Barhill said.

Fisherman Eddie Barhill, who is in his third year on Pine Island, is still coping with the destruction caused by the devastating red tide in 2018.

“Stone crab is my main gig, and it actually killed the stone crabs here,”Barhill said.

Barhill adapted to the circumstances in order to make ends meet by operating an ice business instead.

”Everybody’s got assumptions for what they think is the problem,” Barhill said.

With NOAA and local fishermen banning together, more question are being answered — information that NOAA scientists like Mandy Karnauskas said was missing.

”These guys are out on the water every single day. They see the blooms as they’re initiating, as they’re growing,” Karnauskas said. “It really adds to the depth of that understanding and understanding to linkages to the biology and the social and economic impacts.”

Apart from collecting data, Karnauskas and other scientists are also looking at how the fishing industry was impacted by red tide and what they could do to help in the future.

“If we have some sort of permit flexibility, which would allow them to take certain boats, as they have to go further offshore, that would help them with costs,” Karnauskas said.

NOAA scientists have interviewed nearly 50 fishermen from the Everglades to Clearwater, but the effort started on Pine Island by local fishermen like Barhill, who is part of a nonprofit doing what it takes to ensure better water quality.

Local fishermen who are part of that nonprofit are also fighting for money from the state to help with the devastating toll their businesses took from red tide. Recently, they got a signed letter from Gov. Ron DeSantis responding to their request.

“The fishermen together with the science of it to help each other understand more,” Barhill said.

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