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UF Florida Sea Grant helping public better understand Ian's impact on our Southwest Florida waterways

Fort Myers Shrimp Fleet
Posted at 6:44 PM, Oct 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-14 18:44:30-04

GAINESVILLE, Fla — University of Florida scientists with their Florida Sea Grant are helping us better understand Ian's impact on our Southwest Florida waterways.

One area of interest is the removal of boats that are scattered all over Southwest Florida from Ian’s storm surge. Recent estimates from FWC put the number of storm impacted vessels at over 6,000 in state waters and on land. That is 4 and half times the number of boats in need following Hurricane Michael in the Florida Panhandle in 2018. Sea Grant Agent Scott Jackson of Bay County says it could be years before all those boats are handled.

“Understanding this could take a really long time,” said Jackson. “So, the priorities have just now shifted toward removal of vessels. And if many potentially have fuel on board or other petroleum products that they are trying to address. Initially, over the last few weeks, they have been just to make sure everyone is ok and accounted for. Those activities are still ongoing, but they are ready to transition addressing some of things you are seeing and if you are boat owner, the things that are on your mind.”

Jackson says to continue to work with your insurance company if you have a boat and if a vessel on your property that isn’t yours to work with your local law enforcement.

Florida Sea Grant also addressed Ian’s impacts to the commercial fishing industry.

“The San Carlos Island, the Fort Myers Beach shrimp fleet was severely impacted, said UF Marine Resource Economics Specialist Andrew Ropicki. “You are talking about 50 vessels, 3 of which are operational, came through the storm, ok. As I understand it from a call yesterday with FWC and some industry members there, they are up to 4. 4 boats are out shrimping now.”

To put that in perspective, Ropicki says this represents a quarter of the whole Florida industry.

“These are substantial fisheries,” said Ropicki “The Lee County fishery, you are talking about $13 million per year in dockside revenue. To give you an idea, the state of Florida as whole does about $52 million per year in total shrimp revenue.”

While commercial fishing will need to rebuild their infrastructure, there are also concerns about potential algae feeding nutrients Ian released into waterways.

“Immediately, I might not except some sort of red tide effect,” said Sea Grant Agent Michael Sipos. “But different kinds of algae blooms can grow in different capacities that can have a similar effect of red tides of fish kills, and not be Karenia Brevis. So that might be a bit more likely than red tide, which might occur further down the line. I mean water quality is going to be impacted for couple months, just from what is out there floating around.”

Florida Grant says for folks looking to help the commercial fishing industry's recovery, the best thing you can do is buy local Florida 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.”