It has been a bad year for red tide throughout southwest Florida. The bloom we’ve been experiencing started last year around September and has persisted since. Blooms lasting this long are not unheard of and actually scientists have recently made some correlations between severity and duration of red tide blooms and the position of the loop current. That’s interesting stuff, but what I really want to talk about is why you shouldn’t harvest shellfish for consumption during a red tide bloom. Seems like a no brainer I know, but sadly its been happening a lot during this particular bloom.
Red tide is an example of a Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB), which results from higher than normal growth of a tiny single-celled dinoflagellate algae. Worldwide there are several algal species that can cause red, yellow, brown, and even green tide events. The species typically responsible for red tide blooms off Florida’s Gulf coast and other parts of the Gulf of Mexico is Karenia brevis. K. brevis naturally occurs in Gulf waters, but when conditions are favorable it can reproduce very quickly through cell division (every 48-120 hrs.) creating what we refer to as a bloom.
This year marks the 35th anniversary of the annual Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival. For one weekend in February, this tough and tiny village will open its doors to thousands of visitors to share the proud history and culture of one of Florida’s last true working waterfronts.
Settled by fishermen from North Carolina in the late 1800s, Cortez has never stopped fishing. Its people have withstood hurricanes, wars, recessions and storms of regulations. The village has had to adapt to shifting sands – but the perseverance and grit of the people have never wavered. Today it remains a true testament to the “real” Florida.
This region has supplied bountiful seafood to humans for thousands of years. Fishing here is good for a reason. Nestled among mangroves on Sarasota Bay, Cortez is positioned between two nationally accredited estuaries. Quick translation: the habitat here is pretty special. However, like so much of Florida, Cortez faces threats associated with an increasing human population and ever-encroaching development. But unlike so much of Florida, where similar places have simply been swallowed by the concrete, Cortez has been fighting back.
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.
They’re feisty, fearsome predators, even cannibalistic; and they’re what’s for dinner. At least at my house! Let’s talk stone crab!
Two commercial species of stone crab coexist in the state of Florida, the Florida stone crab (Menippe mercenaria) and the Gulf stone crab (Menippe adina). These two crabs are managed as a single fishery in the state. The Florida stone crab (our crab) occurs in the eastern portion of the Gulf of Mexico and extends from North Carolina throughout peninsular Florida and the Caribbean. The Gulf stone crab occurs principally in the northern and western Gulf of Mexico.
The Florida stone crab inhabits mixed seagrass-hard bottom habitat. Adult crabs dig burrows under the seagrasses or excavate holes in emerged rocks on the seafloor. The Gulf stone crab also occupies those habitats, but prefers muddier bottoms and oyster reefs. Both species feed primarily on mollusks, including scallops, clams, conchs, and oysters, which they crush with their powerful claws. Predators that feed on stone crabs include octopus and humans.
Southwest Florida has a long tradition of commercial fishing in its rivers, bays, and Gulf waters. In 2015 over 22 million pounds of wild harvested fish and shellfish including shrimp, blue and stone crab, grouper, mackerel, and mullet among others were harvested by commercial fishermen and landed in the seven-coastal counties of Southwest Florida. In addition, approximately 285 wholesalers and 750 retailers bought and sold seafood in this region contributing to Florida’s multi-billion dollar seafood industry.
The fisheries in Southwest Florida are monitored and managed at the state level by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and federally by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council. Closed areas and seasons, size and daily limits, trip tickets, and limited access into a fishery are all tools commonly used to manage Florida’s fisheries. In addition, managers establish annual catch limits and accountability measures to ensure the long-term health of the fisheries they manage. Fishermen use a variety of gear and methods to harvest their catch and they must also follow rules to minimize impacts to the surrounding environment and marine life.
Shellfish aquaculture is a relatively new pursuit in Florida. It began in the 1970s in the Indian River Lagoon when attempts were made to culture hard clams as a means of taking pressure off declining wild populations. Techniques for producing seed clams had been developed 20 years prior and Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution (HBOI) developed early grow-out technologies based on culture methods already used in the Northeast but modified for Florida’s subtropical and subtidal conditions.
If you love seafood and want to savor a taste of Florida’s history, then you don’t want to miss the annual Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival (February 13 & 14, 2016).
Cortez village represents one of the last working waterfronts on Florida’s Gulf coast that is dedicated to commercial fishing. Each year, tough and ingenious Cortezians join together to celebrate and share the history and proud heritage of their community at the Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival. This two-day event allows festival-goers to enjoy live music, clog dancing, boat rides, marine life exhibits, nautical arts & crafts, beautiful waterfront vistas – and of course, plenty of delicious local seafood! Trust me, you do not want to miss out on the mullet hot dog. This year’s Festival marks its 34th anniversary.
Cortez has been a center of commercial fishing since the Spanish colonial era, and prior to that, Native Americans depended upon the region for its abundant marine life. This little village has withstood the test of time, surviving hurricanes, red tides and storms of regulations, habitat degradation and economic upheavals. The annual festival showcases how the pioneering spirit of fishermen past continues today in the industrious locals who carry on the community’s legacy.
Reef fisheries are economically important to commercial and recreational industries in the state of Florida. Most species are carefully managed through quotas, size limits and seasonal closures; however, these regulations are effective only if released fish survive.
Gag grouper are a favorite target for many marine anglers in the Gulf of Mexico. Seasonal and size restrictions contribute to recreational discard, and the associated release mortality is an important consideration during stock assessments. There is uncertainty regarding current discard mortality estimates, and the effectiveness of different barotrauma mitigation techniques is unclear.
Perhaps one of the most recognized health benefits associated with seafood, while certainly not the only one, is their omega-3 fatty acid content. These essential fatty acids are required for healthy human development and are not produced in substantial amounts by the human body. They must be obtained from dietary sources and many seafood choices are considered one of the richest sources of omega-3 fats. Health organizations suggest healthy individuals consume at least 250 to 500 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids per day and eat at least two seafood meals per week to maximize the health benefits associated with their intake. The American Heart Association advises individuals with coronary artery issues to consume at least 1,000 milligrams per day. Two types of omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are present in most of the seafood we eat. Both EPA and DHA are thought to reduce cardiovascular disease and contribute to brain and vision development in developing fetuses, infants and children. A third type of omega-3 fatty acid, alpha linoleic acid, is found in soybeans, leafy greens and certain nuts, but must be converted metabolically in the body to have the same level of health benefits that the direct consumption of EPA and DHA provide to human health.
Fish and shellfish obtain these important compounds by consuming phytoplankton, which are the primary producers of omega-3 fatty acids in the marine environment. Consequently, omega-3’s are found throughout the aquatic food chain and are present in commercially harvested fish and shellfish, at some level. In general, fattier, dark-color fleshed fish such as salmon and herring contain higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids than leaner, light-color fleshed species, such as tilapia or cod. Factors such as diet, age, reproductive status, physiology and surrounding environmental conditions, however, can also influence the omega-3 content found between seafood species.
Summer is here, which means in addition to higher temperatures, there’s a good chance you’ll hear reports of “flesh eating bacteria” in the news. While this phrase may be fear-provoking, some common sense and basic prevention steps can help minimize the likelihood of infection. The first step in this process is educating yourself about this potential culprit. “Flesh eating bacteria” or Vibrio vulnificus as it is better known to the scientific and health community, is a naturally occurring bacterium that is present in the warm marine and estuarine waters of southwest Florida. Vunificus, like other members of Vibrio family are called halophilic because they require salt. While the highest concentration of Vibrio in the U.S. occurs in the warmer waters of the Gulf of Mexico, it has been found in lower concentrations in every coastal region of the United States including Alaska. It should also be noted that Vibrio can occur in the cleanest of waters and is not related to pollution levels.
Infection from V. vulnificus occurs in two primary ways. Roughly 50% of U.S. cases comes from the consumption of raw seafood, particularly oysters. (Oysters and other molluscan shellfish are filter feeders who actively filter the bacteria out of water and concentrate it in their tissues.) The other 50% of cases are the result of wounds exposed to saltwater. Ingestion of V. vulnificus can cause vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain. While healthier people might experience milder symptoms, those at high risk can develop more life-threatening illnesses. The bacteria enters the bloodstream and can cause gastrointestinal illness, fever, chills, and decreased blood pressure or septic shock. Infected wounds can also develop blistering skin lesions and ulcers. If left untreated, infections can lead to the breakdown of skin tissue (hence the name “flesh eating bacteria”) and surgery and even amputation may be required for recovery.