Circling back around, you may recall my piece on reader-generated column ideas earlier this year. After soliciting suggestions from you, I was quite impressed by the amount of feedback I received.
Tournament practices and policies were a big topic, as was aquatic plant control. Since that time, more feedback’s rolled in; much again centered on “spraying” and the hit our fisheries are taking as a result.
I’d heard local chatter on a few changes, but then things quieted down a bit. Living and fishing in Florida, one would assume that I’d be bombarded with up-to-date progress on the war on weeds.
Further investigating brought a sour mood when I learned of the governmental decision to again apply herbicides after a series of “listening sessions” in which the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission considered public input on spraying practices. To me, these meetings seemed to be rushed, as they were completed in entirety in a just a few short weeks.
So in light of the decision to again begin spraying, the FWC released its intent to modify the agency’s Aquatic Plant Management Program. To summarize – in my words, not theirs – changes include more management on a lake-by-lake basis, better timing of spray schedules, exploring more use of mechanical harvesting and improving communication between the agency, biologists and spray contractors.
I assumed most of these measures were already in place. One stands out, however. Mechanical harvesting, as I cited in our original piece in February, can be the perfect tool for the job, if feasible. More on that in a minute.
For starters, it’s important to point out that this hot-button issue isn’t limited to Florida, obviously. However, we do hear of it more in the Sunshine State than elsewhere for two reasons. First, the amount of exotic vegetation is extremely high due to the subtropical climate, and the invaders can flourish all year. Second, Florida supports a larger recreational fishing industry than anywhere else in the U.S., maybe in the world, much of which is driven by tourism. In essence, habitat concerns and fishing declines there affect millions of anglers.
And I continue to hear about it, as I mentioned. I’d guess that at least half of all the feedback or ideas I receive center on aquatic vegetation spraying in Florida, mostly on Lake Okeechobee.
Social media has fueled the fire greatly, just as it has in every other controversial topic we get so obsessed with. And, as is also the case so often, misinformation has been presented to attempt to convince audiences to join the cause.
As I mentioned, the idea of mechanical harvest excites me, although I’m not sure how functional it can be. Most often, mechanically harvesting aquatic vegetation is done on a small scale; it’s incredibly expensive to perform compared to treatment with herbicides.
But should that matter? When reflecting on herbicides and pesticides once “guaranteed to be safe," our track record isn’t so stellar. Should there be a price placed on something as vital as long-term water quality?
Getting back on track, I must say I’ve been amazed at the lack of publicity for an integral part of the problem: stagnant water levels and increased nutrients.
In terms of water quality management, especially in Florida, here is likely the biggest problem in our fisheries today. We have demanded nature fit into our mold.
For starters, massive fluctuations of water levels were once the historic norm before man decided to dam every damn lake. Flooding reloaded fisheries with vital nutrients, while drought took water levels low enough that sediment could dry and blow or burn off – that same sediment that is now termed “muck” and blamed for a lack of spawning habitat. It was a natural cycle.
Secondly, in nearly every piece of scientific literature that I have ever read regarding water quality issues, somewhere the term “nutrient loading” comes into play. Most often, it’s when describing farm run-off, septic tank discharges or lawn care fertilizers. It’s a very basic principle: as nutrients are increased into our waterways, the amount of aquatic vegetation also increases.
I wonder, could we find better ways to prevent an overrun of aquatic plants, therefore limiting the amount we later have to kill?
Regardless, the temporary halt to Florida’s program has ended, and the spray boats are back in business. We must remember that the halt, however, was a direct result of user groups who joined together and voiced concern over what they deemed an overreach. We’d be wise to monitor the situation and again gather should the new promises not be kept.
I’m encouraged to read of agencies working more with users – notably bass anglers – to better manage our fisheries. Creel and size limits are being scrutinized, habitat is being restored; even the gene pools of lunker bass are constantly being studied and tweaked. Things are good.
Let’s work to keep the momentum.
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)