Tampa Bay water quality issues affecting fishing business

Tom Charlton
Tom Charlton

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Captain Tom Charlton is a charter fishing guide who works the waters of Tampa Bay. Lately, his business has been lousy.

“People are canceling because of the raw sewage dilemma in the Bay,” Charlton said.

His business depends on pristine water and good fishing and lately. The current sewage issue is keeping customers away.

“They are just afraid to go out,” Charlton said. “They are afraid to eat the fish; a lot of them like to wade fish. They are afraid of getting some type of bacteria infection, and so today I’m going fishing by myself because I had a cancellation.”

Charlton and his clients have a number of concerns about water qualitybecause of the huge amount of wastewater dumped into Tampa Bay after Hurricane Hermine.

RELATED: New video reveals major wastewater problems in St. Petersburg

“I need answers. Is it safe to be in the water to go wade fishing? Is it safe to eat the fish? I just want to ease my clients’ concerns,” Charlton said.

He’s tried getting answers from offices in Pinellas County and Hillsborough County, and he called the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. So far, all he’s found is frustration.

“Each refers me to the other,” Charlton said.

Friday afternoon the Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission provided some answers. The Hillsborough EPC has monitored water quality for more than 40 years to keep track of the overall health of Tampa Bay.

“We go out on boats and collect these samples and bring them back to the laboratory. They are analyzed for bacteria. They are analyzed for nutrients,”  said Paula Noblitt with Hillsborough EPC.

The EPC monitors 260 location in Tampa Bay, but the results of their tests are to look at long-term health of the Bay and not to issue swim advisories. Noblitt has common sense suggestions for people who go into the water.

“We just urge citizens to use common sense and if there is heavy rainfall to avoid contact with the water for a couple of days afterward and allow the Bay to do it’s thing and flush out,” Noblitt said.

She also says fish caught in the Bay are safe to eat if they are prepared properly.

“If someone wanted to limit their exposure to the water that the fish swam through, they should wash their hands. They should wash the fish and they should cook the fish thoroughly,” Noblitt said.

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