Algal bloom doesn’t affect fishing on Lake Okeechobee

OKEECHOBEE — The water may be green in some parts of the lake, but fishermen on both the north and south sides of Lake Okeechobee report the summer has been a good one for fishing.

“The fishing is pretty good first thing in the morning,” said Mike Krause at Okeechobee Fishing Headquarters on Thursday. “I fished this morning at Henry Creek and caught 23 fish between 6:30 and 8 a.m.

“Do we have an algal bloom? Yes, we do,” he said. “It’s not affecting the fishing at all.

“The lake is alive and thriving and well,” said Mr. Krause.

“We’d like to see a lot more grass,” he added, noting that the combination of Hurricane Irma and the chemical spraying done through the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission have reduced the vegetation that cleans the water and provides cover for fish.

From the south end of the lake comes another positive report.

“The fishing is great,” said Mary Ann Martin of the Roland and Mary Ann Martin Marina & Resort. She said they are seeing a good number of fish caught and released.

No fish kills have been reported anywhere on the lake this summer.

Dr. Karl Havens, director of Florida Sea Grant and a professor at the Universality of Florida, said the conditions were right for algal blooms this summer on Lake Okeechobee, as well as on lakes and waterways throughout Florida and other parts of the United States.

“There’s a lot of nitrogen and phosphorus in the lake,” he said. “If you get the right kind of weather in the summer, you can get big blooms.”

He said algal blooms in the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers may or may not be connected to lake releases.

Dr. Havens noted that there have been big algal blooms in the Caloosahatchee during droughts, and during those years, they release water from the lake to help move the water to break up the blooms.

“It’s a really hot summer,” he said. Blooms are happening everywhere.

The heavy rainfall in May was also a factor, he continued. It washed a lot of nutrients off the land.

The canal system, which provides flood control, moves the water quickly into the lakes and waterways. Before people dredged, ditched and diked much of South Florida, the water sheet-flowed slowly, which meant more of the nutrient load stayed on the land. The millions of people living in South Florida increase the nutrient loads into the watershed.

Hurricane Irma, which churned the lake with high winds, left a high level of dissolved nutrients in the water. Because the lake did not get low enough, long enough for the marshes around the edges to recover, the nutrient levels in the water still are high.

“It’s a perfect recipe for a bloom,” said Dr. Havens.

As of June 28, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection had only found very low levels — barely detectable — of toxins from two samples of the cyanobacteria in Lake Okeechobee.

Dr. Havens said some types of cyanobacteria sometimes release toxins. Not all cyanobacteria release toxins, and cyanobacteria that can release toxins do not always do so.

“You could go to a small lake or pond. On one side the toxin levels could be different from the other side,” he said.

In a large ecosystem such as Lake Okeechobee, sometimes the cyanobacteria won’t produce toxins at all, Dr. Havens continued.

Even if no toxins are released, there is a potential danger to fish from a large algal bloom. When the algae dies, it pulls oxygen from the water. If fish can’t get out of the area in time, they could be trapped in oxygen-depleted water and suffocate. Dr. Havens said that is unlikely to happen with the bloom in the lake because if oxygen levels start to drop, the fish can just swim away. Fish kills due to algae die-off are more common in canals or areas where fish are confined.

Photo courtesy Terry Garrels
Lake Okeechobee anglers report the fishing has been great on Lake Okeechobee this summer.

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