What’s worse than toxic algae?
The hoopla around toxic algae.
So says a professional Stuart fisherman who now must weather losses to his business even though he is taking his few remaining clients out on the water for great snook, tarpon, red fish and jack fishing.
“The fishing is great,” says Capt. Pat Price of DayMaker Charters, a 25-year veteran of the local waterways. “I took my wife and kid fishing for two and a half hours last night one mile inside the inlet and we had a great time.
“No one got sick. Our eyes weren’t red. There’s no green stuff on the hull. The water is crystal clear.”
And that could be the true irony of this year’s blue-green algae bloom on Lake Okeechobee: It sounds bad from a distance, but those expecting a doom’s day event in Stuart find business as usual.
Price, whose company runs three charter boats for deep-sea and inshore fishing, took to social media over the weekend to let the world know he and dozens of local fishing businesses are open as the algae hasn’t reached Stuart.
Within a few hours however, he had to take his Facebook post down after it sparked a discussion that degenerated into insults between those who publicize the algae bloom, killing softly Martin County summer tourism, and those who say they can continue making a living on the water away from the algae.
“It’s like you can’t express your frustration with the way things are being handled,” Price says. “This is a frustrating situation for those who make their living from tourism.”
Price said he doesn’t remember the names of those whose comments convinced him to delete his entry, although many who read the exchanges reported they came from members of the grassroots group BullSugar. The organization was branded a “hate group” by Florida Agriculture Commissioner candidate Matt Caldwell last week.
In his original post, Price singled out fellow fishing guide, BullSugar operative and Rivers Coalition Defense Fund Director Mike Conner.
Price took umbrage with Conner’s quotes in a front-page story in the respected Tampa Bay Times last week where Conner said algae blooms have become “the new normal.”
“Normally, I’m out fishing the river at night for snook,” Conner told the newspaper. “But I’m not just worried about the fishing any more. I’m worried about the human health side of it now. I’m not going to fish the St. Lucie River anymore.”
In his Facebook post, Price disagreed and wondered: “I’m not sure who Mike Conner is and neither four out of five of the guides I asked, but F me. If you’re intending on planning a vacation or booking a charter, please speak to the people who are on the water every day instead of listening to people who just want to be important for a day.”
Price says he understands the emotional response to toxic algae.
“People are very emotionally attached to this issue. I get it. But if you speak up like I do, all the sudden you’re not an advocate of the river and you’re a bad guy. Why can’t we report the good alongside the bad?”
Price isn’t downplaying this bloom, by the way.
Far from it.
Two years ago this month, another blue-green algae bloom sent thick sludge along the beaches, in canals and on rivers, creating a serious environmental problem and legitimate fears, he says.
But the media’s coverage of this year’s event and the maximum emotional response from protesters are telling the world about something that has yet to happen, Price says.
Besides, Price adds, those like him on the river daily have no voice. No one in the media, he says, has asked him or others about the shape of waterways.
And that’s costing Price and his family money.
“At this time of year, I should be getting seven to 10 calls a week about charters,” he says. “Since this thing started again, I’m getting two or three calls a week. Some people who are booked are canceling. They go online and they figure there’s no fishing.
“Well, there is good fishing, the good times are still here.
“You don’t see dead fish floating by. You don’t see dead turtles. It’s a non-issue if you know where to go.”
In addition to the losses two years ago, Price says, the 2017 hurricane season wasn’t kind to the Stuart fishing charter industry.
“We were out of work for two to three months,” he says. “And now, we’re going to struggle again.”
What’s worse than toxic algae?