Kel Krotzer’s 30-inch trout, caught four years ago, was his largest in 17 years of fishing the Harbor. Are the good old days going to return sometime? WaterLine file photo

Survival plan: Is there a future for Southwest Florida's fishing-related businesses?

I absolutely understand that we need to protect and manage our fish and fisheries. It’s just that I’m trying to figure out how to run a business when the rules change dramatically without warning.

I understand the need to sometimes have closures, but proactive management could reduce this impact dramatically. Why do we continue to manage reactively instead? Are our fishery management systems doing their jobs? Personally, I’m not impressed with their results!

I’ve tried to work with and help educate numerous agencies and individuals in my half-century of fishing. They continue to collect their checks and wait for retirement. If any of my readers are in fish management and feel differently, please get with me — my desire is to improve fish and management.

I’m fine with scientific methods and fact-based data, but what about reality? Sometimes data doesn’t mesh with observations on the ground. The best example I’ve got is our algae messes we are currently dealing with. Over a decade ago, I personally brought this up with SFWMD officials, and government leaders at public meetings.

Dr. Tamasko of SWFWMD shared his expert analysis about Lemon Bay seagrasses: They were in great shape and almost back to historic levels, and he had aerial photos to prove it. I ask him to consider that I lived and fished on those waters, and I knew the photos showed algae coverage, not seagrasses. He ignored me, and like about a hundred others I offered to show firsthand our water problems, he never followed up to go out and see it for himself from my boat instead of from the air.

It’s frustrating to have to keep pointing out the obvious, but here goes again: We reduced our natural water flows digging the Intracoastal Waterway, so there’s less flushing. Then we destroyed most of the natural wetlands that filtered our runoff. We continue to add and expand roads and parking lots, increasing the water that runs off paved areas. As if this weren’t destructive enough, we developed without mitigating our environmental impacts. We fill our waters with literal crap and act surprised they are experiencing problems. Duh!

If we are going to have a future, we must consider our environment. People live here for the warm weather and water-related activities. Most folks never look past the surface, so it requires obvious, smelly problems to get their attention. Top to bottom, we have big problems. We’re murdering paradise, folks — slowly, but a little more dies every day. I see the Charlotte County commissioners overrode the West Coast Inland Navigation District and threw $200,000 at beach renourishment recently. And by the way, we are not digging out the Pass this time.

Back to the businesses attempting to cope: In addition to the water-related challenges, they must also deal with closures to fisheries without any advance notice. Right now, we have all three of our main inshore targets (snook, redfish and trout) closed for at least a year. This is a big impact on every fishing- and boating-related business. It is hurting our economy now! It’s necessary because they ignored a decade’s work on stock enhancement. I know, because I participated in that work. We can and must prepare for red tide and other contingencies!

In Gulf waters gag grouper has been closed here for six months. Season opened June 1 and is scheduled to run thru December (unless they decide we caught too many). Red grouper has been open, but harvest may be restricted more die to a recent reduction in harvest quotas. Amberjack are closed and we can’t plan on any openings for these fish. Triggerfish are closed; I’d have laughed at you if you would have told me this even 10 years ago.

Goliath grouper are closed and I believe they will be forever, based on current actions by management agencies. Red snapper open for a month starting June 11 but will be closed the other 11 months for recreational anglers. Federally permitted for-hire vessels have a little longer season for the rec anglers that can afford to charter a boat.

That’s a lot of fish you can’t keep. I’m sure I’m forgetting some things, but you get the picture! It’s a mess to keep up with all these rules.

We have ugly, smelly dead algae floating everywhere on our water. It’s piling up on shorelines and floating in mats on all inshore and nearshore bay and Gulf waters. It’s finally getting some press, but I’m so frustrated that they are just now going to study it to determine what it is. Really, how can so many of our government agencies get by with such incompetence? SWFWMD is neglecting our problems. I know they have a lot to oversee, but that’s no excuse for neglecting problems they have been aware of for decades.

Last year we had to endure months of dead fish and red tides. What is our long-term hope for solutions? I hear a lot of talk and I see some positive action. Is it enough, or is it too little too late? We are going to want to consider removing our collective head from the sand we stuck it in, because we just continue to pile on more growth, more development and more people without considering the consequences and real costs.

Capt. Van Hubbard is a highly respected outdoor writer and fishing guide. He has been a professional USCG-licensed year-round guide since 1976, and has been fishing the Southwest Florida coast since 1981. Contact him at 941-468-4017 or

Capt. Van Hubbard is a highly respected outdoor writer and fishing guide. He has been a professional USCG-licensed year-round guide since 1976, and has been fishing the Southwest Florida coast since 1981. Contact him at 941-468-4017 or

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