NewsPinellas County


Impacts of red tide putting bait fishers out of work, forcing fishing charters to use dead bait

Red tide fish kill
Posted at 11:58 PM, Jul 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-17 23:58:38-04

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — The ongoing effects of red tide are putting some local commercial fishers out of work, and causing many to wonder what the future will look like for fishing in Tampa Bay, and in our Gulf waters.

Capt. Dylan Hubbard, the owner of Hubbard's Marina, believes this round of red tide will be hard to bounce back from.

“As far as fish kill goes, I don’t believe this event is as bad as 2017 and 18’s fish kill. As far as concentration-wise in certain pockets, I think it’s as bad if not worse,” said Hubbard.

For Hubbard's Marina, this year's red tide has so far had only minor impacts on business. They're still out catching fish, but they're using dead bait to do it.

“We’ve essentially stopped being able to get live bait for our fishing trips,” said Hubbard.

That's because when red tide hits, the baitfish are the first to die. That's put his bait fisher out of work for the time being.

“What I look forward to all year is June and July’s red snapper season, so that’s when we go from selling 50-60 dozen pinfish a day, to a couple hundred pinfish a day, and I can really stack my money, and June 1st is when the red tide rolled in, and the first bait in my well died. So it’s been a rollercoaster ride just trying to survive," said Brian Harris, a local commercial fisherman who catches bait for Hubbard's Marina.

For now, Brian Harris is picking up side work. Instead of catching fish, he's helping clean up the dead.

“One of our captains was lucky enough to get on the red tide cleanup, and he’s one of the bigger charter captains around here, and he asked me if I wanted to help him scoop dead fish, so I’m scooping scoops of dead fish mixed with maggots every day,” said Harris.

And each day he works red tide cleanup, he worries about what's in store for the future of Tampa Bay.

“When it gets stuck in that bay, it’s not like the beaches where they clean themselves and there’s always new fish coming in and out, this one’s gonna take a lot longer to recover from,” said Harris.

That's a worry for Hubbard's Marina, too, because a lot of the big fish in the Gulf start out as small fish in Tampa Bay. So Dylan Hubbard worries that if red tide events continue every few years, 10 or so years from now, there won't be big fish in the Gulf to catch.

“A lot of the species that we catch and target nearshore and offshore, they’re not affected by red tide in the short term, you’re gonna see plenty of boats come back with big catches of fish, because it’s not affected out there in deep water. But what is affected is future populations of those deepwater species,” said Hubbard.

But for Brian Harris, the long-term problems are back of mind compared to the short-term survival as red tide makes its round.

“I have a wife and a kid and a lot of bills. My boat's expensive to run, and right now my plan is just to keep up with this red tide cleanup until it runs out and then I'm gonna have to just keep looking for clean water," said Harris.

For a list of red tide resources, click here.