PUNTA GORDA, Fla — Hurricane Ian’s powerful storm surge destroyed a large portion of Southwest Florida’s fishing industry, from boats to docks to fish houses.
On Saturday, Governor Ron DeSantis held a press conference in Punta Gorda where he announced that he is requesting for NOAA Fishery Disaster Assistance to the United States Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo.
“This will be commercial fishermen, it will be wholesale dealers, charter boat captains, offshore, near shore, inshore fisheries,” said Governor DeSantis. “And there was damage on all of those. Now we don’t know the exact impacts to the industry. And hopefully the impacts aren’t as severe as worst case, but we don’t really know for sure. But this clearly, a storm of this magnitude, this is appropriate for this declaration. So, once this is approved, then that provides these groups and people in the industry to work with NOAA to be able to get more support.”
As defined by NOAA, A Fishery Disaster refers to a commercial fishery failure, a catastrophic regional fishery disaster, significant harm incurred, or a serious disruption affecting future production due to a fishery resource disaster arising from natural, undetermined or, in certain circumstances, man-made causes.
Hurricane Ian did just that. As Fox 4 has been reporting, Hurricane Ian severely damaged Fort Myers Beach’s shrimp boat fleet. Only three of 50 shrimp boats in port at the time of the storm are now able to harvest shrimp. The rest are piled up or severely damaged from Hurricane Ian’s surge.
During University of Florida’s Florida Sea Grant webinar on Friday, UF Marine Resource Economics Specialist Andrew Ropicki explained how substantial the shrimp fishery is to the state of Florida.
“The Lee County fishery, you are talking about $13 million per year in dockside revenue,” said Ropicki. “To give you an idea, the state of Florida as whole does about $52 million per year in total shrimp revenue.”
In addition to the shrimp fleet, Pine Island lost four of five fish houses on the island. These are locations where fishermen can off load their boats so that fish can be sold at market.
Earlier this week, Fox 4 spoke with Casey Streeter, a commercial fisherman and owner of Island Seafood Market on Matlacha. Streeter said the industry is in bad shape after the storm, and if we lose our fishing, we will lose a big part of history in Southwest Florida.
“Our fishermen on Pine Island especially, the original infrastructure on this island was set to get catch from fishermen to market,” said Streeter. “So, the culture, the history of what made this area unique in the first place is gone or will be gone, and I don’t want to see that.”
Streeter was calling for help from the state and federal governments. That assistance is now coming after Governer DeSantis' request for fisheries disaster assistance. Unfortunately, as Streeter explained earlier this week, that assistance could still take some time.
“We need congressional support to push our disaster declaration through, because there are resources that come into fisheries when we have these issues, but they can take up to 2 to 3 years,” said Streeter.
UF’s Ropicki said on Friday if the public is looking to help the fishermen impacted by Hurricane Ian, look into buying Florida caught seafood.
“Really seek out and ask about Florida caught seafood,” said Ropicki. “I mean a lot of the industry is still sidelined, but as they bring production back online, get their boats back in the water and get back out there working, what would help is demand for fresh Florida caught seafood.”
Saturday also marks the first day of Stone Crab Season in Southwest Florida. Chairman of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Rodney Barreto said FWC is aware of infrastructure issues in areas where crabbers can offload their catch and is currently working a solution.
"We're cognizant of the fact that fisheries, they might not have a place to take to sell it to," said Chairman Barreto. "So, we are going to be talking to the governor about that, because they need an avenue to sell their product and we are going to have to find that. Because it doesn't exist right now. But there are resources out there and we want to make sure they have access to it."