You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Fishery reportedly great in aftermath of Hurricane Ian, going down hill with spreading red tide

The News-Press (Fort Myers) 11/21/2022 Chad Gillis, Fort Myers News-Press

Should you pick up a fillet or two of locally harvested fish at the market this week? 

We asked the Florida Department of Health, a tackle shop owner and a seafood purveyor if they would eat locally harvested seafood in the wake of hurricane Ian. 

Answers varied. 

Southwest Florida is typically home to one of the best fisheries in the Fishing Capital of the World, but questions about consuming locally harvested seafood have lingered since Hurricane Ian made landfall on Sept. 28. 

Concerns center around a flesh eating bacteria (Vibrio vulnificus) as Lee County has been home to 28 cases, with six of those resulting in deaths. You can get Vibrio from consuming tainted and undercooked shellfish. 

Why the record number of 'flesh-eating': Health department blames Ian

Previously: Cape Coral disabled veteran battles post-Ian 'flesh-eating' bacteria

Apparently the coastal fishery survived the storm fine (which makes sense considering the food chain evolved with the regular presence of tropical storms and hurricanes), but some people fear there may be chemicals or other contaminants in the local seafood. 

"Do not harvest or eat molluscan shellfish, or distressed or dead fish from this location," The Florida Department of Health in Collier County said in an email to Marco Island residents. "If caught live and healthy, finfish are safe to eat as long as they are filleted and the guts are discarded. Rinse fillets with tap or bottled water." 

Dave Westra, owner of Lehr's Economy Tackle in North Fort Myers, said the fishing in coastal Southwest Florida was excellent just a few weeks ago. 

"Right after the storm, the water was so disturbed that the food source was all over the place," Westra said. "(But then) there was a lot of bait and fish activity, the fishing was really excellent. And there hasn't been a lot of people after them so the pressure has been off." 

Red tide has lingered off the coast of Sarasota County for weeks and recently moved into Lee and Collier waters. 

"Fish started floating up, but I don't know if they were fish kills from offshore or fish from the inside," Westra said. "When you start seeing mullet this time of year, they're starting to spawn with the first good cold front. If they're setting in upper Charlotte Harbor, they're going to be goners. they won't make it through the red tide." 

Westra said the tackle industry has been hit hard because many coastal areas have been off-limits to the public in the wake of Ian. 

But fall is typically a good time for fishing as the food chain is active and many fish are migrating in local bays and rivers. 

"I wouldn't wade, I wouldn't swim, I wouldn't put my hands in the water," Westra said. "All you have to do is have a nick or ding and the next thing you know you're in the hospital." 

As to eating them? 

"I'm sure they're edible, but am I going to eat them," he said rhetorically. "No, not until the health department tells me I can do it."

Other news: State report shows toxic algae levels from Sarasota south to Marco Island

Local seafood seller Chanda Jamieson, owner of The Fisherman's Daughter, said she feels like fish is safe to eat as long as it's properly prepared and cooked. 

"Fishing families have seen Southwest Florida’s water quality change over time, encountering red tide and algal blooms, as well as the presence of (Vibrio) bacteria," Jamieson wrote in an email correspondence with The News-Press. "This has been going on for years, and through it all, commercial fishermen and local seafood processors have continued to put time and care into each and every catch, ensuring it is cooled and cooked properly."

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is still studying the local gamefish population in the wake of Ian. 

"Assessing the impact of episodic disruptions (red tide events, major hurricanes, chemical spills) is best accomplished when you have long-term data that gives you a before-after perspective of changes in population patterns," said FWC spokeswoman Carly Jones. "FWC collects these data through long-term programs like our fisheries-dependent and fisheries-independent monitoring programs." 

Water quality experts at Florida Gulf Coast University have said it is unsafe at this time to eat locally caught seafood. 

Jamieson, however, says the local fishing industry is supplying a safe product. 

"Like much of Southwest Florida, the commercial fishing industry was hit hard," Jamieson said. "As we continue to fish, to haul, to rebuild, to nourish this community we cherish, we hope Southwest Florida will continue to support local fishermen." 

Connect with this reporter: @ChadEugene on Twitter. 

This article originally appeared on Fort Myers News-Press: Fishery reportedly great in aftermath of Hurricane Ian, going down hill with spreading red tide

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon