Pictures of dead fish floating on the surface of the water were taken on the beaches of Anna Maria Island more than a week ago. Similarly grisly scenes are now being captured from area canals as red tide lingers in the water.
Crews have been hard at work over the last several days to clear the beaches and shorelines of the dead marine life, but the carnage is also showing up in privately-owned canals. Manatee County does not have a fleet to remove the fish from the canals and their crews can’t clean private property.
So, some fishermen have reached out to the county to help.
County commissioners were looking into solutions they could offer to the mounting calls coming into the Citizen Action Center about dead fish and fishermen out of work, said Manatee County information outreach manager Nick Azzara. They decided to provide dumpsters so fishermen could contract with citizens and businesses and have a place to dump the waste.
Dumpsters were made available at Bayfront Park on Anna Maria Island along with the Kingfish and Coquina boat ramps.
For the latest updates on red tide, sign up for breaking news alerts here. To support coverage of breaking news and more, click here for a digital-only subscription.
Red tide conditions seem to change daily, due to the wind direction and current. On Wednesday, Anna Maria Island beaches saw a reprieve of the algae bloom, with clearer waters and no dead fish along the shore. But on Thursday, things looked grimmer.
It wasn’t awful on Manatee Public Beach, which had only a few dead fish and a slight smell in the air. People were swimming in the Gulf.
But just a few miles away on Palma Sola Causeway, hundreds of dead fish lay along the water. The smell was unbearable.
“I grew up on Anna Maria Island,” said resident Amy Kirk. “And this is the worst I’ve ever seen it. It’s so sad.”
According to Mote’s beach conditions map on Thursday afternoon, the Coquina Beach report shows slight respiratory irritation, some dead fish and “moderate” water color. Further south on Siesta Key, the map shows dark water, intense respiratory irritation and “heavy” dead fish.
Wednesday, Manatee County government released a list of those who would contract to clear local canals of the unsightly and smelly dead fish. The release noted that the county has not vetted the services, nor endorsed those on the list.
Despite the inconvenience and odor, many of them say those who call them out for work don’t want to have the fish removed until they’re sure they won’t wash back up to their newly cleaned canals. It’s one of the questions Destiny Ibasfalean, charter boat captain for Blue Discoveries Family Charters in Cortez, gets asked the most when she talks to people about removing dead fish.
“People are asking, ‘If you clean it up, will it come back in three days?’ I can’t give them a 100 percent answer,” said Ibasfalean.
She said she always offers to set up a system with rope and floating noodles that will keep the floating fish away from the end of a canal, but believes cleaning up the mess too soon would attract business to that location again.
For Weston Hayes, an independent commercial fisherman who also appears on the list, clearing the fish is a balance of “prolonging the inevitable.”
“The tide can come back in and the fish could show up even more,” Hayes said.
Nathan Meschelle, president of the Cortez chapter of Organized Fishermen of Florida and owner of Inseine Fish Harvest, said he reached out to Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore to offer help.
“I wanted to be active instead of griping about it,” Meschelle said.
Meschelle completed a job for the city of Anna Maria since being added to the county’s list but it’s not the first time he’s helped clean up red tide waste. He started helping collect waste from the waterfront and canals last week.
Meschelle also said those who have contacted him for help cleaning up their canals are opting to wait until they can be sure this bout with red tide is over.
“They don’t want to pay for services now then the next day it all be there again,” Meschelle said.
Not everyone offering help is a full-time professional fisherman. Russell Grant owns Accurate Tile and Remodeling Service Inc. and used to fish professionally and own a bait shop. He said he eventually had to sell the business but never lost his love for the water. Now, he’s seeing the impact of red tide on the area and offered his boat to help by cooperating with local fishermen.
“It’s something I can do for my community. .... I think it works out for everyone,” Grant said.
Whether it’s to help make up for lost wages like Meschelle, or to help the environment like Hayes, each had a reason for wanting to help clean up the canals.
“The motivation is I hate seeing it like this and I want to get back to normal, working order,” Grant said.
Ibasfalean said she wanted to get involved to help bring back tourists and ease people’s worries about red tide.
“People are scared, they don’t want to get in the water, they don’t want to do anything,” Ibasfalean said. ”They want a solution.”
“I don’t like cleaning up dead fish, I don’t want to do it full-time, but I want to help out,” she said.
Bradenton Herald reporter Samantha Putterman contributed to this report.