Although the algae blooming during a red tide can be harmful to humans, that doesn’t mean you have to put your fishing trip on hold.
Have you ever abandoned your saltwater fishing plans because of the water’s dirty-brown or even red appearance? Well, there likely wasn’t any sort of toxic spill or chemical contamination. The color, known as red tide, was the result of blossoming algae reaching the upper portions of the surface currents around Florida and the Gulf of Mexico. Although red tide is toxic to humans—but rarely lethal—it is perfectly safe to fish if you take a few precautions.
Furthermore, since the bloom dies before it reaches the ocean floor, the depth of the decay rarely reaches water deeper than six feet. Fish that instinctively avoid the upper depths reached by the decaying algae also avoid the toxin that otherwise would paralyze their central nervous systems, so if you fish deeper waters, you can still achieve a productive fishing trip, regardless of the many fish that do, in fact, perish from red tide.
A few tips can help you out when fishing during red tide.
The harmful red tide is isolated to the areas around the Gulf of Mexico.
Various algae species cause red tides worldwide. But it is the species populating waters around Florida, Karenia brevis, that is often toxic to humans. Generally, the red tide starts about 40-80 miles offshore in the Gulf of Mexico and slowly moves with the ocean currents toward the area around Tampa Bay.
Be aware, however, that coastal waters, winds, currents and the Gulf Stream have been known to carry the algae around Florida into the Atlantic Ocean and even as far north as Delaware. Although red tide can occur in bays and estuaries, it does not affect freshwater systems.
Fishing trips don’t have to be cancelled or postponed due to red tide.
Anglers can continue to fish the Gulf of Mexico during periods of red tide by either moving inland to an area of less salinity and less likely to be affected by the red tide, where they can try their luck at hooking fish such as sea trout, croaker and flounder. Filling the boat’s live well before departure and continuing to run it on recycle until reaching a bloom-free area will also keep bait and shrimp alive and less effected by the red tide.
Anglers who hope to plan their fishing trips around the occurrence of red tide can monitor the predictions made by the NOAA Harmful Algal Bloom Operational Forecast System.
You can even eat fish caught during red tide.
As long as the fish are filleted before cooking, they are safe to eat since the outside portion exposed to the algae is removed and any algae accumulation in the fish’s innards are disposed of during the filleting process. Merely freezing or cooking the fish, however, will not remove the toxin. It is never safe to eat a dead or distressed fish found in a red tide area.
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Avoid recreationally-harvested shellfish during a red tide.
It is actually illegal to harvest bivalve mollusks, such as hard clams, oysters and mussels, during red tide. Eating unregulated shellfish harvested in a red-tide area should be avoided at all costs since these creatures can accumulate so much toxin that they become toxic to humans. Fortunately, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Division of Aquaculture regularly announces if it’s safe to harvest these shellfish in a particular area, generally several weeks after a red tide has ended.
Crustaceans commonly referred to as shellfish, including crabs, shrimp and lobster, are not affected by red tide and can be eaten. The liver, organs and other soft tissues inside these shellfish, however, should be avoided.
What happens when humans are exposed to red tide?
Many times, red tide exposure has no effect on anglers and other people at all. Some, however, experience rashes and respiratory illness. Exposure can occur from touching the dying algae or breathing the air near a red tide. Those who eat shellfish infected with K. Brevis can suffer from neurotoxic poisoning, which can cause severe gastrointestinal and neurological symptoms.