THE LOOMING DEATH OF OUR COASTAL FISHERIES

In case you missed it, here it is. A clear and passionate explanation of not only what’s happening in Florida but all of our coastal fisheries. Rise up fly people, and force our politicians to end the bullshit.

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SOUTHERN CULTURE ON THE FLY
WINTER 2016: ISSUE no.18
THE LOOMING DEATH OF OUR COASTAL FISHERIES
By Joe Murray

Our coastal fisheries are getting fucked because of pathetically poor habitat and water management, and fly anglers (hell, anglers in general) aren’t doing shit about it.

First, let’s do the historical baseline test. Let’s choose 60 years ago, if for no other reasode429092f4f77f13b58bf67e78ade813-1.jpgn than some of the people reading this will have fishing memories from back then, and can attest to the next statement: How is our coastal fishing now compared to then? Almost across the board, a mere shadow of what it once was. I have yet to speak with an older angler who has told me that fishing now is as good or better than back then – and “back then” could be 30 years, not 60. If we’re talking about evaluating the state of our fisheries, we don’t want to just look at the past five or 10 years — we need a bigger picture. And that bigger picture looks pretty damn sad. It sure as hell isn’t something you’d hang on the wall of the man room.

Sure, there are spots here and there where a fishery is pretty good, but even these spots tend to be hot and cold, anglers often having to work harder than they used to for good fishing. And once again the old timers tell stories that make a big day today pale in comparison.

So compared to 60 years ago, our fisheries aren’t doing well. Why are anglers okay with this? Are they so consumed by denial that they accept it as the new normal and just fish harder, or travel to find good fishing? I wonder how much of the fishing travel outfitter business in recent years is the result of anglers giving up on their home waters and traveling to scratch the itch? I bet it’s a lot. And that’s classic avoidance behavior. Plus, this only works if you have the money to do it. Everyone else is screwed.

To those who are reading this and think that fishing today is just as good as it’s ever been, you need to see a shrink, because you’re in a majorly altered state of reality.  Or you’re too young to know any better. The data say the fisheries are in decline, as do the accounts of those who’ve been doing this for a while.

So what’s the source of the ills that have befallen our coastal fisheries? Bad resource management. For most coastal recreational fisheries (there are a few exceptions), I don’t think it’s bad management, it’s bad resource management. Florida is a great example. By and large, the recreational fisheries are well managed. Size limits, seasons, bag limits are all based on best available science and are doing what they’re supposed to do.

In glaring contrast, the state can’t have its head much farther up its ass when it comes to habitat and water management. Due to ast errors in judgment, Florida has already lost somewhere around 50% of its mangroves. Since a lot of recreational fish species rely on mangroves, that’s a problem. Now, when the state reviews an application for clearing mangroves for development (yes, this still happens), it reviews the application as if there are just as many mangroves as there ever were, not as part of a larger, cumulative loss of habitat. This generally leads to the permit being approved at the expense of the fisheries.

 

And the outlook for salt marshes is no better.

As if to underscore his inability to grasp basic economics, Florida Governor Rick Scott recently declared that state parks and other state-owned lands had to prove their economic worth and pay for themselves. What he fails to grasp is that in large part it is these public lands that are the factory that produces the recreational fisheries that are worth somewhere between $5 billion and $8 billion annually to the state’s coffers. His shortsighted “management” is resulting in reduced habitat and fishery health that will be felt by Florida for generations to come. Saddest of all, this guy is now in his second term.

But that’s nothing compared to the mismanagement of the water. Decades ago, folks had the bright idea to drain the Everglades for development and farmland. Now the southern half of Florida is crisscrossed with varicose veins of water canals, and many other watersheds in the state were similarly violated. Now there are few places where the freshwater that flows into the estuaries follows its historical path, not to mention all of the excess nutrients and pollutants that are in that water.

Not enough freshwater is getting from the Everglades into large areas of Florida Bay. This is causing the salinity (salt content) of the water in Florida Bay to get so high that it’s killing seagrass and fish. he typical salinity of ocean water is 35 parts per thousand. At one point this summer, the salinity in parts of Florida Bay was 65 parts per thousand. This has been killing toadfish and pinfish, which are virtually indestructible. The low amount of rainfall this year in the Everglades is certainly exacerbating the situation, but the real cause of the problem is diversion of the freshwater flows for “water management” (and you thought California was the only state with bad water management practices).

In contrast to too little freshwater, other parts of Florida get way too much. Two rivers connect Lake Okeechobee to Florida’s coasts. When the water level gets too high in the lake, the Army Corps of Engineers opens the locks that keep the freshwater in the lake, and it pours out the Caloosahatchee River to Florida’s Gulf of Mexico coast, and the St. Lucie River to the Atlantic coast — billions and billions of gallons of freshwater. A few years ago, the plume of muddy, tannin-stained freshwater bellowing out of the Caloosahatchee River could be seen more than five miles offshore. No matter the tidal cycle, water flowed out of the river mouth top to bottom, 24 hours a day, for weeks. And in the St. Lucie River, not only did most of the oysters die due to the deluge, but people got rashes and got sick from being in the water.

You can imagine what this did to the fish and fishing.

How bad is the water in Lake Okeechobee? A few years ago during a drought, the water level in the lake became so low that large areas of the mucky bottom were exposed. Someone had the idea to dredge out some of the muck that had accumulated over the decades. But when they tested the muck, it came back as so contaminated that there was no place to put it other than a sealed landfill. It remains in the lake to this day.

Here’s another gem for you: The levels of mercury in freshwater fish in South Florida are so high that the state recommends that people do not eat freshwater fish. Period.

The frustration here is that Florida’s water is still being managed like it’s the 1950s. The world is different now than it was back then. We know more and we should know a lot better, but the old ways just won’t die.

One of the bullshit arguments you’ll hear over and over again is that this is competition for freshwater between agriculture and the fish. If agriculture used reasonable conservation measures with its water use practices, this wouldn’t be an issue.

A lot of the water management canals were built to move water – to prevent flooding in some areas, deliver water to others. Because these canals drain a lot of agricultural land and take runoff from urbanized areas, the water is full of all kinds of crap. At the top of the list for many is that the water contains too many nutrients. Too many nutrients entering coastal waters and estuaries cause plankton blooms, which kill seagrass, shellfish, and other organisms, which – you guessed it – greatly impacts the fisheries.

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For water management purposes, the entities in charge want long, straight, clean canals that can move a lot of water. So on a regular basis, these entities spray herbicides in the canals to get rid of plants like Hydrilla, which can clog the canals and water control structures and pumps. This, of course, not only introduces yet another pollutant into the water, but also puts the nutrients that had been soaked up by the plants right back into the water. This makes for a nasty nutrient soup heading straight for coastal waters.

A few locations in Florida and other states use barge-mounted, mower-like contraptions to remove Hydrilla. This seems like a decent alternative to pollutants, and it helps to remove the nutrients from the system.

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A massive plankton bloom driven by a long-term input of nutrients is to blame for the massive seagrass die-off in Florida’s Indian River Lagoon. The plankton bloom blocked sunlight from reaching the seagrass, and then the decomposition of the dead plankton and seagrass reduced oxygen in the water, which helped take out a lot more of the seagrass. This happened in 2010, and the recovery has been slow to say the least. Manatees, dolphins, and turtles are dying in high numbers, and fish have lesions. There hasn’t been a report of a decent shrimp run in years.

Some say that the 2010 event was the “perfect storm” caused in large part by the extreme freeze, to which I say bullshit. The Indian River Lagoon has been through freezes many times before, and never has such a die-off been documented. Some also say that 2010 was the death of the Indian River Lagoon, but the estuary has been dying the death of a thousand cuts for years. The 2010 event was just the accumulation of too many cuts — it had been coming for quite some time.

The Indian River Lagoon isn’t going to recover until something is done to fix the water. High-nutrient, polluted water can’t continue to be dumped into the lagoon on a daily basis.  It’s pretty simple.

The same can be said for Florida Bay and the Everglades. Until the water is fixed, the ecosystem – and the fisheries that depend on a healthy ecosystem – will continue to weaken and eventually totally collapse.

The Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers will continue to be wastelands until water flows out of Lake Okeechobee are controlled.

All of these problems are shitting on our fisheries. And until these problems are addressed, our fisheries will continue to decline. Here’s the scary part – ecosystem and fishery declines aren’t slow and gradual. They are punctuated by cliff edges where they take a huge drop all at once to a “new normal,” and to many this is an “oh shit” moment that’s too late.

If the changes in the coastal fisheries that have occurred over the past 20 years instead occurred over a few weeks, people would be going ape shit. The declines would be obvious, painful, criminal, even to those who don’t fish. Instead, the changes have occurred in increments — the infamous “death by a thousand cuts” – it’s death all the same. It’s just that saltwater anglers can’t get out of their own way to see the changes, instead grabbing ever more desperately for that “good day” of fishing, whatever the hell that means anymore. So the perpetual optimism that keeps fly anglers chasing fish across the flats is also what has kept us from seeing how bad it really is, and makes the con job of the resource managers just that much easier.

I know it doesn’t sound sexy, but short of getting the band back together (read Monkey Wrench Gang), the only way to get action is to make life painful for those who make the decisions – the resource managers and politicians. That’s how democracies work. You have to participate to fix shit that isn’t working. So far, recreational anglers are sitting on one hand and drinking beer with the other.

Sure, it’s a pain in the ass and may take away some of your fishing time, but unless this shit is fixed, you’ll have plenty of non-fishing time available in the not-too-distant future. Then you can write as many letters as you want lamenting the way it used to be, and you can use what you’ve made selling your gear on eBay to fix up the man cave.

Just because it seems like it’s free because there is no charge for being out there wading a flat, walking a shoreline, or poling a boat, don’t fool yourself. It’s not. What we invest in now is directly related to the benefits we’ll get later. Unfortunately, those who came before us didn’t invest enough and didn’t protect the investment. Those charged with protecting the resource have failed at their duties. So here we are in the shit show. Now get off your ass and pay your dues, do something about it.

 

I am reposting my own post….weird.

I wrote a little ditty up for orvisnews.com the other day. Thought y’all might dig it.

I have been a part of many a river clean-up. Usually we pick up trash from along the banks and everyone goes home content, but knowing that a darker pile of garbage was left in the river, and will be there the next time we come back. The tires that inhabit way too large a number of our Southern waterways seem immovable and endless. They stay there for decades. We Southerners learn to mark fish by certain tires — the big one is behind the third tire down, fifth from the right sort of thing.

The Orvis “Get The Tread Out” Campaign was conceived at the Orvis East Coast Guide Rendezvous last February. This past October, with the help of Orvis, E. Mountain Sports Ltd., Sweetwater Brewing, Southern Culture On The Fly magazine, and a lot of other fine folks, a group of more than 30 intrepid fly fishing garbage men (and women) got the tread out so to speak – literally. The South Holston River is down 300 tires, and I feel awesome about it.

We armed ourselves with homemade gaffs, grappling hooks, and good old-fashioned mushroom anchors. Backs were strained, boats were dirtied, and a difference was made. Three hundred tires, two sidewalk newspaper boxes, a broken toilet with the bathroom floor still attached, a TV from the ‘70s (as evidenced by the dial), and one super creepy doll head was our bounty. This giant pile of refuse is no longer in the river, and it only took a day. Who knows? We might be able to clean every tire out of the river in a week? Two weeks? A month? Whatever that period of time may be, it’s not forever and eternity. Just because the tires have been there since you or I have been fishing the river doesn’t mean it has to stay that way for generations to come. All it takes is a boat and someone willing to get them out.

Thank you to Orvis, E. Mountain Sports Ltd., Sweetwater Brewing, and especially to all the people who put their backs and boats into really cleaning up the South Holston that fine day. Thank you for the amazing sense of accomplishment and mindset that we don’t have to live with it anymore.

-David Grossman

Access Alert

Got a recent email from Dwayne Hopson about disturbing recent events on the Nolichucky. Read on revolutionaries;

“This past week the US Forest Service installed three metal posts which blocks access to the Poplar Boat Launch on the Nolichucky River in North Carolina.You can no longer back a trailer to the river to load/unload a fishing raft. This eliminates the ability to float the river from Huntdale Road/Sams Branch Road to Poplar as well as Poplar to Erwin, TN. This eliminates about 12 miles of river access to fishing rafts. While they blocked the access they also improved it by putting down gravel all the way to the river. Why improve it, then block it????

 Please contact the US Forest Service in Burnsville, NC and ask them to remove the posts.

 Appalachian Ranger District

District Ranger, Tina Tilley

P.O. Box 128

Burnsville, NC 28714

(828) 682-6146

appalachianrd@fs.fed.us

 This decision is detrimental to some people’s businesses and livelihood and to some people’s ability to simply enjoy a great section of river.

 Thanks for your help.

Dwayne Hopson

Do with this what you will, but I for one am kind of sick of access’ with ballards making it an absolute pain in the ass to float and fish on a lot of rivers around here. I’ve been told Squeak Smith is on it, so you know someone’s already getting an earful.

– Dave

Stuff, Stuff, And Shots To The Junk

Tie-One-On-A-Thon: We are in the homestretch with the event coming up this Sunday. We will have tickets at the door but if you’re in Hunter Banks between now and then go ahead and grab one there…just ten bucks for a great cause. We’ve got more tiers this year, and a whole lot more stuff to give away. Thanks to our sponsors, this year is going to be swag-tastic. So come on down to Steve’s studio this Sunday, and hang with some cool folks….you will probably walk away some free stuff to boot.

Enough Free Stuff To Choke A Donkey

The Store Has Been Renovated…And Now Looks Like “The Limited” At The Mall: Through a lot of hard work, and a lot of Guatemalan dry wall crews, we have managed to completely change the look and functionality of our store, so you might want to give it a  look. If you’re over there, check out the new Trucker Hats Steve came up with…sicky sicky gnar gnar (thanks James…best saying ever). Buy them while they last.

A Reward For Reading All The Way To The Bottom Of This Post: Almost four straight minutes of nut shots…

– dave

The Aftermath

The image above is just hilarious it has no relevance to the post.

It’s funny, you would think after releasing the first issue of our magazine I would be somewhere fishing, sipping on a PBR, surrounded by the Fly Girls from In Living Color, but alas no…I have been dutifully performing shop monkey duties for the past three days. Being a shop monkey does however, put me in front of the computer when customers aren’t in the shop (that’s for you Jeff…my boss), and the first issue has been blowing the f* up. We have been mentioned by a lot of national fly fishing media outlets (thanks Orvisnews and Midcurrent), prominent blogs (thanks to all you guys…you know you are), as well as message boards across the country. My personal favorite has to be the folks that have personally called me…on my phone…to tell me how SCOF has finally filled the void of a great magazine about where we fish. The stats keep racking up and we are adding a ton of subscribers. For all of this, we would like to thank all of you.

This weekend we are going to have a booth right by the casting pool at the Western North Carolina Fly Fishing Expo. We hope everybody will stop by and say hello. We’ll have a some of the contributors from the issue hanging out, Thomas Harvey tying intermittently, and I’ll be there drinking PBR out of a coffee mug into the wee hours of the early afternoon.

If we don’t see you there, thanks again for giving our little magazine a chance, and if you really like it…don’t be afraid to tell everyone you know via all of the intra-web tools available to you.

– dave

There Is Nothing Pro About Bass Pro

The rumors have been flying around my little neck of the woods that we are  getting a new Bass Pro Shop, and every fly shop owner in WNC has probably pooped their pants a little. I am not going to say doing your shopping at Bass Pro is un-American or anything like that, because having the choice to shop at Bass Pro is exactly the definition of American.  Unfortunately every dollar you spend at Bass Pro is money that isn’t spent at a local fly shop (if you don’t have a local fly shop you are excused), and I guarantee you that the guy who owns the local fly shop is a whole hell of a lot more passionate about the sport than the counter monkey at Bass Pro who gets eight bucks an hour whether he knows what he is talking about or not. I happen to be a local fly shop counter monkey and have on more than one occasion been asked to spool Bass Pro and Cabela’s outfits at no charge. I do it with a smile on my face because that’s what a local fly shop should do. Offer their expertise to anyone who walks through the door and asks for it. Unfortunately that same guy will probably go to Bass Pro next time he needs something because he is under the false assumption that bigger means cheaper…well not in the fly fishing industry. Cabela’s and Bass Pro aren’t allowed to sell a Sage rod or Simms waders at a discount unless every other retailer is (usually older models about to be replaced)…it’s written into their contracts. This misconception is what has been killing local fly shops since the advent of “big box stores” and unfortunately it continues to do so to this day. What this whole deal is gonna mean for local Asheville fly shops still remains to be seen, but I got a feeling I’m gonna see a lot more White River crap walking through the door in the not too distant future.

– Dave

The Spring Preview Issue Is Alive…and Awesome

Click On The Cover To See The Issue

It has been a veritable log flume around SCOF headquarters for the past week.  The lows have been truly low and the highs, well the highs have been better than huffing a bag full of glue out of a meth heads belly button. After switching providers at the eleventh hour and fifty ninth minute we have had a week to tweak everything…like a purple nurple on a fourth grader with glasses. We are proud to announce that the issue is 100% complete (unless someone finds a typo…which please don’t tell us about if you do…Steve might not make it through another issue upload), and all the links, video and mobile platform work.

So a little housekeeping is in order.  Ryan Dunne’s video Bluelines and Banjos video opens in a separate window from the issue, and be warned it takes a minute to load. We wanted to present it in the highest definition possible and figured a little bit of load time was worth seeing those wild fish in full High Definition. If you’re severely ADD and the Ritalin just isn’t helping, hit the video and browse the rest of the mag while it loads…it’s worth it. We have linked everything in the issue we could think of so when you are flipping through don’t forget to give every page a thorough cavity search and the links will light up when you hover over them. Last but not least we have made SCOF mobile. You can down load the issue through our website on the iPhone and iPad. We have optimized the issue to be viewed in iBook so you can still watch the video and explore all the different links. If you are on the Droid operating system download the Issuu app and search Southern Culture On The Fly.

Steve and I would like to thank all of our great contributors (click their bios in the mag to check out their professional sites) for giving up their time and skills helping us make a magazine that we hope Southern Fly Fisherman can be proud of. We would also like to thank Curtis Wright Outfitters and Hog Island Boatworks for going out on a very long, thin limb and becoming our first paying advertisers. Steve and I put a lot of ourselves, and more than a little bit of our sanity into this project, and we are pretty confident that the magazine is only going to get better as we move forward (Fall Issue drops October 2011 with more features and departments). So, if you have suggestions, criticisms, story ideas or any other feedback please share, but just remember…I cry a lot…for no reason…sometimes for days at a time.

-Dave

An Open Letter To The Guy Who Defiled The Restroom Last Saturday

Dear Sir,

What is the matter with you? I mean really, have we as a society devolved to the point where it has become acceptable to leave that kind of mess in a restaurant bathroom. I am not a prideful man but I have to work at a horrible job for very little money, I haven’t been able to get the smell of wings out of my nostrils for weeks now, and I do all of this because I love to fish and not much else. You sir apparently like to crap yourself in restaurants and rely on the servers to clean up your mess. I have often asked myself if pursuing my passion is worth all the crap (both literal and figurative) that I have to put up with. I mean when you work in an office I am pretty sure no one asks you to dispose of their recently soiled underwear (I might be wrong on that one it’s been a while since I worked in an office). So last Saturday you really forced me to examine what I am doing with my life…yesterday I went fishing.  I would like to thank you for really bringing my life into focus with your unfortunate poopy accident. I can finally call myself a hardcore fisherman, because if I am willing to pick up another man’s stained drawers to keep fishing I am pretty sure that qualifies me.

If I ever find out who you are, I will punch you directly in the throat,

Dave “Super Hardcore” Grossman

NC House Bill 353…It’s Way More Exciting Than It Sounds

Yesterday a few of our state politicians introduced a bill that would give Redfish, Speckled Trout, and Striped Bass game fish protection in the coastal waters of NC. For those of you not familiar with game fish status it basically means that these fish would no longer be able to be harvested for commercial purposes and would now exist for strictly recreational fishing purposes. No more culling hundreds of Stripers, no more Redfish in gill nets, this is a good thing people. So it is once again time to write an email to your state representative and let them know these fish are too important to us to let them be eradicated by over fishing and netting, and just to show that we here at SCOF aren’t all business enjoy the Redfish Can’t Jump Trailer which some might say (including us) was a major influence in getting our state fish the game fish status that Redfish so badly deserve. Click here for more info on the bill and to find out who your state representative is so that you can take up personal residence in their inbox.

-dave

It Is Officially Take A Hipster Fishing Month

Here at SCOF Headquarters we believe in giving back, and with Suzanne Summers cornering the African angle early on, and the guys at Fishy Kids picking up the slack for our kids, we decided that we want to help a group of folks that may not get the attention that these other groups garner, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need help…and a lot of it. So today we are announcing our little contribution to society, SCOF Take A Hipster Fishing Month.

For those of you not familiar with the recent scourge of the Hipster Movement, it involves men wearing clothes that are undersized (notice the boy size jeans on the grown man), also accessories (I don’t know how else to explain it, but when you see the matching purple chucks and bandanna you’ll know what I’m talking about). This weirdness has to stop or we might have a whole generation of spiky haired douche bags on our hands. So, the next time you are on your way to a day of fishing and you happen to see one of these ineffectual man boys lurking about; pull over, throw them in the back of the truck (by force if necessary), and take that Hipster fishing…because in the end you can’t look like a douche when you’re wearing waders and boots, and wielding a six weight.  For more info on the plight of the Hipster click here (seriously you’re gonna want to click that)

– Dave