NOAA Fisheries denies red tide funding help for Southwest Florida fishing guides, seafood workers
Some Florida politicians and Southwest Florida fishing guides are expressing distaste with the Biden administration after a federal agency denied federal funding for fishing guides and seafood workers in the wake of the devastating 2018 red tide bloom.
The letter asking for help was sent in May 2019, and the request was denied Tuesday by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo.
“In August 2018, I witnessed the destruction of the red tide event firsthand, as well as its impact on countless Floridians up and down the Gulf Coast,” said U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Miami, in a news release. “The Biden Administration’s assertion that the red tides of 2018 and 2019 do not amount to a fisheries disaster is insulting, and it appears to be a blatantly political move — one that risks severe consequences for the economies of the communities directly impacted."
Congressman Byron Donalds signed on off on the request for federal funding and said he, too, was not pleased with the decision.
“I echo Senator Rubio’s frustration following the Department of Interior’s derelict decision to deny Florida’s request for disaster assistance for fisheries impacted by red tide events," Donalds wrote in an email. "Red tide has produced one of the worst fisheries disasters in Florida history resulting in 2,000 tons of dead marine life and $8 million in damages to local businesses. This denial from Biden's Department of Interior is a slap in the face to all those impacted by the harmful and devastating effects of red tide. It also demonstrates a troubling ignorance coming from those tasked with protecting our environment and people."
The 2018 red tide was one of the worst blooms on record, and millions of pounds of dead marine life washed up on local shores.
Bloom conditions lasted for more than a year, and then-Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for coastal Southwest Florida.
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From the smallest of seahorses to literally the largest fish in the world, the whale shark, died here that summer.
Locals waterways and beaches were practically deserted.
Visitors cancelled hotel bookings, and fishing guides lost several months of income.
But National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, Fisheries found that the conditions didn't add up to a disaster worthy of federal funding.
"NOAA Fisheries determined that the subsets of fisheries most heavily impacted by the red tide events in Florida were the 2018 and 2019 mullet, red grouper, and stone crab fisheries that operate in Lee, Collier and Charlotte counties," said NOAA Fisheries spokeswoman Kate Goggin. "NOAA Fisheries determined that the fisheries disaster request did not meet the necessary requirements to be declared a disaster."
Goggin said there were losses in the local fisheries but that commercial fishers were able to move to other areas to stay employed.
"Analysis of available information suggests that the 2018 and 2019 mullet, red grouper, and stone crab fisheries did experience a sudden and unexpected decrease in biomass that resulted in loss of access to the fishery and was most likely the result of red tide events," Goggin said. "However, revenue loss for mullet and red grouper in those counties was low (below 35%).
"While revenue loss for stone crab in those counties was slightly higher, landings data indicate that stone crab fishermen shifted to other fisheries and/or moved to other areas to mitigate revenue losses in Lee, Collier, and Charlotte counties," she said.
Naples fishing guide Mike Bailey, owner of Ms. B. Haven Charter Tours, said he was frustrated with the NOAA Fisheries decision but wasn't surprised.
"Anybody that held a fishing (captain's) license at that period of time and was actually fishing a vessel for a living should have qualified," Bailey said. "If they would give (any funding assistance) to the state and go that way it would be fair. The way to do it is to divide it up among shareholders."
Rubio was on of several politicians who signed off on the 2019 letter, including: U.S. Senator and former Gov. Scott and congressmen Vern Buchanan, Carlos Gimenez and W. Gregory Steube.
"Secretary Raimondo's determination runs counter to common sense and shows a complete disregard for the devastating losses experienced by many Floridians in recent years due to these events," Rubio's statement reads.
Connect with this reporter: @ChadEugene on Twitter.