CAPE CORAL, Fla. -- The algae crisis is taking a toll on Southwest Florida business owners.
The anguish is clear as Christine Miller holds her face in her hands and wonders what's next for her family-owned business.
“Right now, I'm just hoping to keep my doors open. I'm scared.”
These days she and the fish are the only living creatures in the tidy Cape Coral bait shop named the Snook Hut, where customers would normally be coming and going. “We've had days that there's not a person coming through the door.”
One of the problems is just blocks from the bait shop – a toxic blue-green algae clogging neighborhood canals and the Caloosahatchee River where locals and visitors used to be able to cast a line.
The other problem is along the coast, where a toxic red tide algae is killing fish by the thousands.
‘Businesses like myself, we depend 100% on fishing. Without the fish, there's no business,” says Miller.
And she says the few who brave the red tide suffer the consequences: the smell of rotting fish and lung irritation. “Even those that get out, they can't breathe when they get out.”
And so her family's bait shop sits empty. Even this gulf water that's brought in with the fish is brown, and the business is in the red.
“For the last three months, we're down $30,000,” says Miller.
And that’s after buying this business believing that the area's waters would provide a living. “We've put everything we had into this, this is our livelihood. It's scary. It's very scary.”
Governor Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency, which could open the door for some suffering businesses to get loans. But Christine says that's useless to mom and pop shops like hers. “No one can afford to take out a loan. That would make us that much more in debt.”
Debt, she says, is not what's needed. “We need help.”