Florida fish, tourism losses grow from red tide

Published on
August 20, 2018

Florida, U.S.A. restaurants and other businesses are suffering losses from red tide and blue green algae, which have killed millions of fish and impacted public perception of the region.

Florida Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency last week, after the red tide bloom expanded to affect around 130 miles of coastline in Southwest Florida. The new declaration for Charlotte, Collier, Hillsborough, Lee, Manatee, Pinellas, and Sarasota counties will provide money and resources to combat the ongoing red tide and blue green algae problems.

In Lee County, around 2.7 million pounds of dead fish have been found on the beaches in August. Dead fish from red tide have turned up in multiple locations in Pinellas, Manatee, Sarasota, Lee, and Collier counties, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

While FWC officials say that Gulf of Mexico and Florida seafood sold in stores and served at restaurants are safe to eat, some restaurants along the coast of Florida have experienced plummeting sales since the red tide began earlier this summer.

“What we are hearing is that most folks are fine, but some folks on the water are experiencing decreased sales,” Amanda Handley, press secretary for the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association, told SeafoodSource.

When restaurants and hotels receive questions about whether they are serving seafood impacted by red tide or blue green algae, they explain that their seafood is purchased through distributors that have to be inspected by the state. 

“Food purchased from a restaurant or seafood market is safe to eat because that all has to be inspected. However, you should not swim in the water if there is red tide,” Handley said. 

While the state has some red tide problems every year, there is a higher than usual amount of red tide and blue green algae this year, FRLA members report.

“It's everywhere in the news now. The red tide is a little south of us, so some people are scared that it could come up this way,” Lee Aquino, executive chef for The Birchwood, a hotel in St. Petersburg, Florida, told SeafoodSource.

While The Birchwood’s staff has not heard questions or concerns about red tide from guests, it is temporarily not carrying local red snapper and grouper as a precaution.

Other commercial seafood suppliers are also being harmed by red tide, after FWC halted the commercial and recreational harvest of shellfish in the southern parts of the Gulf through at least 30 September. 

In addition, FWC is warning Florida consumers not to eat seafood in the areas impacted by blue green algae.

“Lee County is the only county impacted by both blue green algae and red tide, so they have been hit hard,” Handley said.

Restaurants, seafood suppliers and others impacted by red tide and blue green algae are eligible for financial help - thanks in part to the “state of emergency” declaration.

Florida's tourism agency will receive USD 500,000 (EUR 437,000) to promote travel to the affected areas. In addition, small businesses that have between two and 200 employees are eligible for six-month, interest free loans, ranging from USD 1,000 to USD 50,000  (EUR 874 to 44,000) from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

Photo courtesy of Florida FIsh and Wildlife Conservation Commission 

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