A Salty Heritage: Celebrating the Fishing History of Tampa Bay

The National Sea Grant Program is celebrating 50 years of Science Serving America’s Coasts (for a 30 second video, or even better, a 10 minute video). To commemorate Sea Grant’s cherished history of working with fishing communities, UF/IFAS Extension Florida Sea Grant Agents Libby Carnahan (Pinellas) and Angela Collins (Manatee, Hillsborough, Sarasota) hosted “A Salty Heritage: Celebrating the Fishing History of Tampa Bay.” The program, held at Weedon Island Preserve in December 2016, was open to the public and highlighted the bounty and diversity of fishing opportunities within the Tampa Bay region. Invited panelists included commercial and recreational representatives, and featured crabbers, seafood wholesalers, and fishermen. Each speaker told tales from their past, provided insight into their industries, and shared their visions for the future.

John Stevely, UF/IFAS Extension Florida Sea Grant Agent emeritus, talks about the history local working waterfronts in Tampa Bay; notably the sponge industry in Tarpon Springs and mullet in Cortez. Other panelists included (from left to right) Dawn Ayelsworth, Bob Ayelsworth, Jason DeLaCruz, Larry Borden and Gus Muench.

Two of the featured Keynote speakers, Captain Bob and Dawn Aylesworth, operate Aylesworth’s Fish & Bait, Inc. This second-generation, 65-years young family business is based in the Tampa Bay area and specializes in high-quality frozen baits, chums and fish attractants. Captain Aylesworth is the current Co-Chair of Florida Sea Grant’s Advisory Panel, and is president of the Aylesworth Foundation for the Advancement of Marine Sciences. The Ayelsworth Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to the protection and enrichment of marine resources through education and research, and to date, has donated nearly $1 million to the marine community.

Captain Jason De LaCruz, owner/operator of Don’s Dock and founder of Gulf Wild, provided his insight into local fisheries; first from his perspective as a young recreational angler and spearfisherman, and now as the owner of a commercial fishing enterprise. Jason is the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance Vice President and Gulf Wild Executive Director. His work with Gulf Wild led to Jason becoming a recipient of the first-ever Presidential Award for “Champion of Change for Sustainable Seafood.”

Other panelists (Gus Muench, commercial crabber; Larry Borden, commercial and recreational angler and diver; and John Stevely, Florida Sea Grant Agent Emeritus) were equally as inspiring, and all have played a role to empower and inspire members of Tampa Bay’s fishing communities.

Libby Carnahan introduces the panel, from left to right: John Stevely (Florida Sea Grant Emeritus), Dawn and Captain Bobby Aylesworth (Aylesworth Fish and Bait Inc.), Jason De La Cruz (Gulf Wild), Captain Larry Borden (recreational fisherman and diver, retired commercial captain), and Gus Muench (commercial crabber).

Programs such as these provide an opportunity to increase awareness and spark excitement for coastal environments, and establish a strong foundation for environmental stewards in our community.

The Salty Heritage program was recorded by our partners at Pinellas County Communications and can be viewed here: Celebrate National Sea Grant’s 50th Anniversary with: “A Salty Heritage: Celebrating the Fishing History of Tampa Bay”


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