C-44 Reservoir and Storm Water Treatment Area (STA)
After weeks of algae Lake O shots, when my husband, Ed, went up in the Baron on June 17th, 2020, I looked at him and said: “Could you please also take some photos of the C-44 Reservoir and STA for an update? I need a positive fix.”
Thus today’s photos of the C-44 Reservoir/STA in Martin County, off the C-44 canal near Indiantown, share good news. Most important for me, the pictures reveal that many more of the STA cells are slowly getting filled with water -in December 2019 they started with one as Governor DeSantis pulled the lever. One can see many more cells are now filled. When complete, these cells will cleanse tremendous amounts of nutrient polluted water prior to entry into the St Lucie River. The ACOE projects that construction will be completed by next year. It has been in progress for many years and is a” cooperative” between the ACOE (reservoir) and SFWMD (STA) and a component of CERP.
Program: Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP)
“Located on approximately 12,000 acres on the northern side of the St. Lucie Canal in western Martin County, the C-44 Reservoir and Stormwater Treatment Area (STA) project will capture local basin runoff…” ~SFWMD“Achieve More Now”
There are maps and links at the bottom of this post should you like to learn more. Thank you to all over the years and today helping with the completion of the C-44 Reservoir STA as we work to save the St Lucie River.
Today, family friend, Dr Scott Kuhns, flew the River Warrior II taking aerials of the the St Lucie River. He wrote: “8:15 this morning 5/29/20 can’t find any clear water! All the way past Jupiter.”
My reply: “This is really good that you have taken these pictures Scott. This is all tremendous runoff from C-23, C-24, probably C-44, as well as our tidal basin. The SFWMD Raindar chart shows it poured up to 10 inches in the past week in the area of Martin and St Lucie Counties. South in Miami, even more. The positive thing is this runoff discoloration of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon will fade after dissipating -when the rain stops -unlike Lake Okeechobee discharges that can last for many months unstopped, on top of such. Thank you! Interesting to know it is dark water all the way south to Jupiter. Thank you for taking these photos. They document our so called “local runoff.”
Hi. Today I will provide a water update. Some is good; some is not so good.
St Lucie River
Although the coronavirus and social distancing is hampering everyones’ ability to visit the St Lucie in large groups, the water in the St Lucie River -at least near the inlet- remains beautiful right now. If you have not been out, you can witness this blue water in photos taken by my husband and me on Saturday, April 4, 2020.
Lake Okeechobee. 11.70 feet.
The South Florida Water Management District and Army Corp of Engineers report Lake Okeechobee’s submerged aquatic vegetation, SAV, is really expanding the sun can reach the grass; this is fantastic for fish and wildlife and water quality, however the closely diked east side of the lake does not get the SAV benefit as it is too deep; the slight algae bloom reported there last week remains. We must be honest and recognize many people feel the lake is too low, but fortunately, there is little chance of discharges from Lake O to the St Lucie and this is a good thing.
~We must note that today the SFWMD made a call for water conservation as much of South Florida is very dry.
LOOKING BLUE! ST LUCIE RIVER AND INDIAN RIVER LAGOON BETWEEN SEWALL’S POINT AND SAILFISH POINT, AN AREA KNOWN AS THE SAILFISH FLATS. SEAGRASS SLOWLY RETURNING. 4-4-20 JTL/EL
ST LUCIE INLET AS SEEN FROM ATLANTIC
Submerged Aquatic Vegetation has greatly improved in Lake Okeechobee; this is great news. The grasses are located in shallow areas but not along the eastern edge where S-308 opens to the St Lucie. The lake is 730 square miles, topography varies. The lake was reported by the ACOE to be 11.70 feet NVGD on 4-6-20. Areas along the shallow western shore look like below.
LAKE OKEECHOBEE’S EASTERN SHORELINE, 5000 FT. THIS SHORELINE WAS DIKED CLOSE IN, THE EDGE IS DEEP SO NO SAV GROWS HERE. 4-4-20JTL/EL.
FPL COOLNG POND EASTERN SHORE, ST LUCIE CANAL or C-44 Canal. S-308 at Lake O. YOU DON’T SEE ALGAE FROM THIS FAR UP. JUST A SHADE OF GREEN.
KISSIMMEE RIVER ENTERS LAKE O. LAND EXPOSED DUE TO LOWER LAKE LEVEL. PRETTY HERE. 4-4-20 JTL/EL.
Below: THESE PHOTOS WERE TAKEN THE FOLLOWING DAY, SUNDAY,4-5-20 ON THE GROUND CLEARLY SHOW BLUE GREEN ALGAE ALONG THE EASTERN SIDE OF LAKE OKEECHOBEE AND THE S-308 STRUCTURE THAT ALLOWS WATER INTO THE C-44 CANAL FOR AGRICULTURAL IRRIGATION.
AT THIS TIME NO WATER FROM LAKE O IS GOING THROUGH S-80 AT THE ST LUCIE LOCKS AND DAM TO THE ST LUCIE RIVER. WE WILL CONTINUE TO REMEMBER THE ALAGE BLOOMS BROUGH ON BY LAKE O IN 2016 AND 2018 AND KEEP OUR EYE ON LAKE O.
EASTERN SHORELINE OF LAKE O ALGAE IS APPARENT! VERY DARK WATERS.
SITTING ON ROCKY SHORELINE OF EAST LAKE OKEECHOBEE, SUGARCANE BURNING BEHIND ME, ANCIENT SHELLS IN HAND. ~Photo Ed Lippisch
WALKING THE EASTERN SHORELINE OF LAKE O (VIDEO)
SHELLS ALONG AN EXPOSED BEACH DUE TO LOWER LAKE LEVEL
BLUE GREEN ALGAE INSIDE S-308 STRUCTURE/C-44 CANAL
INSIDE C-44 NEAR A CULVERT
LOOKING OUT OF THE C-44 CANAL TO OPENED S-308 STRUCTURE FOR BOATS
BACK OF S-308
LOOKING SOUTH WEST, LAKE O. THE S-308 STRUCTURE IS TO THE LEFT OUT OF PICTURE
ED AND OUR GERMAN SHEPHERD LUNA LOOK ON
Thank you to my brother Todd Thurlow for his web site http://www.eyeonelakeo and thank you to my husband Ed Lippisch for being on this journey with me for the past twelve years. Onward!
*Friend Paul Millar shared these photos of S-308 today, 4-6-20 3:30pm, so this post is now very updated. Thank you Paul!
First of all, let’s recognize that we are stressed out enough social distancing due to the coronavirus. Nonetheless, for our waters, we must pay attention on every front. Right now, the St Lucie River and nearshore reefs are absolutely beautiful, and there is not a threat from Lake Okeechobee or area canals as it is not raining very much. Lake Okeechobee is at 11.85 feet NVGD, therefore, the chances of discharges into the St Lucie River are basically none. If another Hurricane Dorian comes this summer, that could be a different story.
We know our waters suffer from nutrient pollution overdose. Thankfully the State Legislature under the leadership of Governor DeSantis is now paying attention. It will take some time for the bills passed this past legislative session to bear fruit and some will need to be expanded, but when it comes to our waters we are in a better position politically this year and last year than in recent years.
Nonetheless, we must continue our advocacy and continue to document.
The above Jacksonville Army Corp of Engineers map distributed during the March 31, 2020 Periodic Scientist Call shows how much water is going where from Lake Okeechobee. One can see that water for agricultural irrigation is being sent east into the C-44 Canal via S-308; at 191 cubic feet per second. This is fine, and I hope all the water users get the water they need, but algae blooms in our waters is a concern for me.
So to get tho the point, today I share my husband, Ed Lippisch and friend, Scott Kuhns’ flight photos taken today, April 2, 2020 around 11:00am. The aerials show the beginning of an algae bloom in Lake Okeechobee near the S-308 structure at Port Mayaca (Ed said it appeared much brighter than in the photos) as well as clearly in the C-44 Canal near the FPL retention pond and its structure S-153.
Continuing to fly east, there appears to be no algae at S-80, St Lucie Locks and Dam further down the C-44. Keep in mind, the water that is going into the C-44 canal via S-308 at Lake O, Port Mayaca is not going east through S-80 but being used before it gets that far for water supply in the western part of the almost 30 mile C-44 canal.
~Confusing, I know! The C-44 is long and has multiple abilities.
Here are the aerials, as long as possible, we will continue to document the St Lucie River and Lake Okeechobee.
BELOW: LOOKING EAST OVER LAKE OKEECHOBEE, FPL COOLING POND VISIBLE
BELOW: FAINT GREEN ALGAE CAN BE SEEN NORTH OF S-308 ALONG SHORELINE OF LAKE OKEECHOBEE FROM 2000 FEET.
ALGE NORTH OF S-308 and RIM CANAL LAKE O
BELOW: ENTRANCE OF S-308 AT LAKE O GOING INTO C-44 CANAL
BELOW: S-80, St Lucie Locks and Dam, further east along the C-44 Canal, no algae visible
“The throat of our river was cut by the canals.” ~Ernest Lyons 1905-1990
Today, I begin a series of blog posts under the title: “Destruction by the Numbers,” based on new information my brother Todd has added to his website: http://eyeonlakeo.com.
The first slide we will study is calculated under Historical Discharge Graphs for “S-80, Calendar Year 2010 to 2019.” S-80 is the Army Corp of Engineers’ structure located at the C-44 Canal that discharges water to the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon from two sources. First, from the basin surrounding the C-44 Canal; and second, through S-308 at Lake Okeechobee.
Todd’s chart allows us to isolate the most recent decade, 2010-2019, and see that the highest discharging year during this time was 2016 at 847,773 acre feet. 2016 was by far the worst year in recorded history for cyanobacteria blooms being discharged from Lake Okeechobee and spreading throughout the river system. There was such massive blue-green algae build-up at Bathtub Beach that the waves and shoreline were completely green.
Don’t be intimidated by the left axis’ measurement of acre feet. Acre Feet is easy to calculate as it means exactly what it says. The acreage noted, in this instance, 847,773 acres, would be covered by one foot of water.
For reference, I will use the Everglades Agricultural Area, (EAA), located underneath Lake Okeechobee that we talk about all the time. This farmed area, mostly sugarcane, is 700,000 acres. So 847,773 acre feet of water —dumped into the St Lucie River from S-80, in 2016 –would cover the entire EAA, and more, by one foot of water!
~The map below shows the EAA in a salmon color.
Back to the chart. The next worst year, following 2016, was infamous 2013, the year that became known as the “Lost Summer,” and really started the river’s revolution at 671,067 acre feet. At one foot deep, the amount of water discharged would just fit inside the boundaries of the 7000,000 acres of the Everglades Agricultural Area. It is interesting to note that 2017, a year not often mentioned, closely followed with 661,000 acre feet.
2018, a horrible water year, fresh in our memories, actually came in fourth at 402,116 acre feet! Obviously timing and temperature are factors too.
~2010, 2015, 2012, 2014, 2019, and 2011 follow. Of course 2019 is not even finished. It will be interesting to see where it ends up.
As we would have guessed, 2016’s toxic algae health hazard was the highest destruction by the numbers year in the past decade. But what we would never have estimated is how much water was discharged to the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon through S-80 in the 1950s and 60s. This number will truly blow your mind. But we’ll save that for the next “Destruction by the Numbers.”
You’ll see that after the rain event, the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon looks terrible even with out Lake Okeechobee discharges. This is caused by directed water runoff from C-23, C-24, C-25, C-44 and “local” coastal runoff. Naturally, the river never took all this water. Humans made it this way, and we must fix it.
Soon after the torrential rain, the Army Corp of Engineers made things even worse and started dumping from Lake Okeechobee through the C-44 Canal into the St Lucie River by opening up the gates at S-308 and S-80.
My husband, Ed, first flew over Lake O on June 1st, just by chance. At this time, he spotted algae on the lake and took a photo. Ironically, the next day, the Army Corp started dumping from Lake Okeechobee on June 2nd!
After another long, hot summer, the Army Corp finally stopped discharging in the fall~October 5th… Take a look at the photos and remember to enjoy the blue water when it is here, but NEVER FORGET! Only though looking back, will we have the determination to change the future.
LAKE OKEECHBEE DISCHARGES ADDED
City of Stuart, June 9 2018.
Rio near Central Marine, week of June 12, 2018
LAKE O: Week of June 16th, June 25th, and July 22nd. Cyanobacteria (blue green algae) blooms and then subsides. ~All the while, this water is dumped into the St Lucie River by the Federal Govt.; the water quality is terrible and this the responsibility not of the Feds but of the State of Florida.
October 5, the ACOE stops dumping from Lake O. The blooms stop almost right away but the damage remains….
Ed and I have just returned from vacation. Ironically leaving June 28th, the day the ACOE announced a nine-day reprieve due to algae in Lake Okeechobee; and returning July 8, the day before the ACOE may open S-308 into the St Lucie River once again.
It was a great trip and the weather was excellent.
Ed was our pilot, and we flew with stops from Stuart to Michigan. It was remarkable to sit in the airplane and see the land below me ~ever changing from swampland, to farmland, to cites, to forest, to mountains, to rivers, and peppered with hundreds of lakes….
When we finally approached the Great Lakes Region, I was looking for the algae I had read so much about, and yes, there were some lakes turned green. But not in the vast northern waters of Lake Michigan, or Lake Huron, these lakes were deep mirrors of blue.
“The water here looks like the Bahamas,” Ed noted. We both looked in wonder at their hue.
Sometimes, I awoke at night, thinking of home. Thinking about how there is nothing like it, in spite of the many wonders of our great county. In spite of the beautiful, blue, icy waters of Lake Michigan.
On the way home to Stuart, I asked Ed if we could fly inland over Lake Okeechobee just to see. It was midday and the clouds had popped up and I knew we’d have to do my least favorite thing, fly though them. As the turbulence engulfed the airplane, I closed my eyes and prayed. And then finally, as always, we were through.
The lake opened up before us like an ocean.
I could clearly see the algae at about three thousand feet. It was visible roughly a mile off the lake’s east coast out into the lake for as far as the eye could see. Ed flew west and then circled around. The green masses of algae had been pushed into geometric designs by the wind, and they were everywhere. We flew for miles over the middle of the lake and beyond. To my surprise, the repetitive, endless, formations of cyanobacteria caused something unexpected to happen. Rather than my usual disgust, or anger for the destruction of the St Lucie, I felt myself begin to tear-up. “This poor lake,” I thought to myself. “I know you were once so beautiful even mythical; what have we done to you?
I wiped the tear from my eye, so sad for what is happening to the waters of my beloved Florida. Ed turned the plane, and we headed home…
S-308 algae was visible about a mile off the east coast of the lake and on and off, sometimes heavy, inside of the S-308 structure and in the C-44 canal to S-80 at St Lucie Locks and Dam.
S-80 was open and algae could be seen going through the gates from the C-44 canal
Home at last. Sewall’s Point Park River Kidz FDOT recycled sign art
I woke up to seeing sunshine through the window. I looked at my phone. My brother’s text read: “S-308 just jumped to 1484 cfs and its climbing.”
(Go to St Lucie River for reports: http://www.thurlowpa.com/news.htm)
In Sewall’s Point, today is the first morning in three weeks that it hasn’t been raining, or just about to. My porches have been slick with moisture and leaves. The frogs in my pond are so loud at night I have to put in ear-plugs. My husband and I laugh saying you can count sheep, but there is no sleep!
In spite of all of this and the fact that the ACOE has been discharging from C-44 canal basin since around May 16, and the St Lucie River already looks like hell, it is still disappointing and heart-wrenching when they formally “open the gates.” ~To Lake Okeechobee that is…
In spite of the history, or knowing why they do it, it just seems so wrong that little St Lucie has to take basically one-third of the crap water for the state. Sorry and I know my mother will not like that word, but its the truth. Thank God for Joe Negron and his work last year as President of the Florida Senate and resurrecting the EAA Reservoir. And curse to any new Governor who does not help it be fulfilled.
The natural drainage basin of the St Lucie River shown in GREEN below was much smaller than it is today. The introduction of four man-made drainage canals dramatically altered its size and the drainage patterns. This primarily being C-44, the canal connected to Lake Okeechobee (bottom). One can see from the map image that C-44 Basin and of course Lake O’s water, the most effective assassins, were never part of the St Lucie Basin as were not Port St Lucie’s C-23, C-24, and C-25 system. These canals have killed our river!
The EAA Reservoir must be built, and in time, more water must move south to Florida Bay. We shall be fixed or compensated or a combination of both for our now noxious-reality. We will not accept this fate. Who knows what this summer shall bring. But one thing is for sure, this life along the St Lucie, is now toxic.
Thank you to ACOE for the following information and press conference yesterday.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Jacksonville District will start releasing water from Lake Okeechobee this weekend as part of its effort to manage rising water levels.
The discharges are scheduled to begin Friday (June 1). The target flow for the Caloosahatchee Estuary is 4,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) as measured at Moore Haven Lock (S-77) located in the southwest part of the lake. The target flow for the St. Lucie Estuary is 1,800 cfs as measured at St. Lucie Lock (S-80) near Stuart. Additional runoff from rain in the St. Lucie basins could occasionally result in flows that exceeds the target.
“Historic rain across the region since the middle of May has caused the lake to rise more than a foot,” said Col. Jason Kirk, Jacksonville District commander. “We have to be prepared for additional water that could result from a tropical system. The lake today is above the stage when Irma struck in September, which eventually caused the water level to exceed 17 feet. A similar storm could take the lake to higher levels.”
Today, the lake stage is 14.08 feet, up 1.25 feet from its 2018 low which occurred May 13. The lake is currently in the Operational Low Sub-Band as defined by the 2008 Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule (LORS), but within one foot of the Intermediate Sub-Band. Under current conditions, LORS authorizes USACE to discharge up to 4,000 cfs to the Caloosahatchee (measured at S-77) and up to 1,800 cfs to the St. Lucie (measured at S-80).
“Forecasts indicate more rain is on the way in the coming week,” said Kirk. “Additionally, long-range predictions indicate increasing probabilities of above-average precipitation for the rest of the wet season. We must start aggressively managing the water level to create storage for additional rain in the coming wet season.”
Last Thursday on November 16, the ACOE reported they will reduce the amount of water they are releasing from Lake Okeechobee. The Corp had been releasing at a high rate, on and off, since September 20th. New targets are 2800 cfs east and 6500 cfs west.
Photos below were taken yesterday, 11-19-17 by my husband, Ed Lippisch. We will continue to document the discharges from Lake O, and area canals.
As Thanksgiving approaches, we are thankful the discharges are lessened and that the SFWMD and the public are working hard to plan the EAA Reservoir Senator Negron fought for… We the people of Martin County, will not be satisfied until these discharge stop. The river has its hands full with unfiltered discharges draining agriculture and developed lands from C-23, C-24, C-25 and C-44. All must be addressed.
“And where the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish. For this water goes there that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes…” Ezekiel
These aerial photos over the St Lucie Inlet were taken by my husband, Ed Lippisch, Sunday, October 29, 2017, at 1:45pm.
The number one issue here is the polluted waters of Lake Okeechobee being forced into the SLR/IRL because they are blocked by the Everglades Agricultural Area from going south.
The ACOE has been discharging Lake O waters into the St Lucie since mid-September. These over-nutrified and sediment filled waters continue to destroy our economy and ecology on top of all the channelized agricultural and development waters of C-23, C-24 and C-25. Stormwater from our yards and streets also adds to this filthy cocktail.
Near shore reefs, sea grasses, oysters, fish? A human being? Better not have a cut on your hand…Not even a crab has an easy time living in this.
We move forward pushing the SFWMD and ACOE for the EAA Reservoir with these sad photos and the fact that our waters are putrid at the most beautiful time of year as motivation. We will prevail. One foot in front of the other.
Yesterday, I asked Ed to take me up in the plane, once again to document the discharges. In the wake of much rain and an active hurricane season, the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon continues to sacrifice its economy, health, and ecosystem for the EAA and South Florida drainage. A standard operating procedure that is outdated and dangerous.
The discharges from Lake O. have been on and off since Hurricane Irma hit on September 20th. Presently they are “on,” and it shows. Right now our river and ocean shores near the inlet should be at available to boaters, fisher-people, and youth, in”full-turquoise-glory.” Instead, the estuary, beaches, and near offshore is a ghost-town along a chocolate ocean and a black river. The edge of the plume can hardly be distinguished as all is dark, sediment filled waters. A disgrace.
“Right now billions of gallons of fertilizer, sewage, and legacy pollution from Lake Okeechobee are spewing into the St. Lucie River, carrying a new threat of toxic algae. Water managers may say Irma left them no choice, but of course that’s a half-truth…”
Documentation of primary and secondary plumes at St Lucie Inlet caused predominantly from human directed ACOE/SFWMD discharges post Irma and other from Lake Okeechobee & canals C-44, C-23, C-24, C-25. 10am, September 30, 2017. Primary plume out 3 miles; secondary 3 1/2 and not quite south to Peck’s Lake. We must continue to #ReplumbFlorida #forthefuture #forthewildlife #forthekidz #fortheeconomy for our #indianriverlagoon JTL/EL
Hurricane Irma may be gone, but her waters are not. Our now black river and the giant plume off the St Lucie Inlet attest to this. Clean rain that fell in our region during the hurricane is now filthy “stormwater” discharging, unfiltered, through manmade canals C-23, C-24, C-25, and C-44. Nature did not design the river to directly take this much water; this much water kills.
Every plume looks different, and this one is multilayered with no clear border. Sediment soup, black-brown in color, yesterday it extended out about 2/3 of a mile into a stirred up Atlantic and flowed south, in the rough waves not quite having made it to Peck’s Lake.
Since Hurricane Irma’s rains, area canals dug with no environmental foresight in the 1920s and 50s for flood control, and to facilitate agriculture and development, have been flowing straight into the river. On top of this, in anticipation of the hurricane, three days prior to IRMA the Army Corp of Engineers began discharging from Lake Okeechobee. During the hurricane they halted, and then started up again at high discharge levels reaching over (4000 cfs +/-) this past Friday, September 15th. As Lake Okeechobee rises and inflow water pours in from the north, and is blocked by the Everglades Agricultural Area in the south, we can expect more Lake O discharge on top of the canal releases themselves.
As advocates for the St Lucie River we continue the fight to expedite the building of the EAA reservoir and to create a culture to “send more water south.” In the meantime, we, and the fish and wildlife, and the once “most bio diverse estuary in North America,” suffer…
As the possibility of a direct hit from Hurricane Irma approaches, I can’t help but reflect.
Looking back, we see that it was the severe flooding and the hurricane season of 1947 that led Florida and the U.S. Government down the track to where we are today through the creation of the Florida Central and South Florida Flood Project, (CSFP).
In 1947, during the United States’ post World War II boom, Florida had a very active and destructive hurricane season. This slightly edited excerpt from the ACOE’s book River of Interest does a good job giving a short overview of that year:
“…Rain began falling on the Everglades in large amounts. On 1 March, a storm dropped six inches of rain, while April and May also saw above average totals. The situation became severe in the summer…
As September approached and the rains continued, the ground in the Everglades became waterlogged and lake levels reached dangerous heights. Then, on 17 September, a hurricane hit Florida on the southwest coast, passing Lake Okeechobee on the west and dumping large amounts of rain on the upper Everglades, flooding most of the agricultural land south of Lake Okeechobee.
George Wedgworth, who would later become president of the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida and whose parents were vegetable growers in the Everglades, related that his mother called him during the storm and told him, “ this is the last call I’ll make from this telephone because I’m leaving. . . . “We’ve got an inch or two of water over our oak floors and they’re taking me out on a row boat.”
Such conditions were prevalent throughout the region. Before the area had a chance to recover from the devastation, another hurricane developed, moving into South Florida and the Atlantic Ocean by way of Fort Lauderdale. Coastal cities received rain in large quantities, including six inches in two hours at Hialeah and nearly 15 inches at Fort Lauderdale in less than 24 hours.
The Everglades Drainage District kept its drainage canals open to discharge to the ocean as much of the floodwater in the agricultural area as it could, exacerbating coastal flooding. East coast residents charged the District with endangering their lives in order to please ag- ricultural interests, but this was vehemently denied…
Whoever was to blame, the hurricanes had devastating effects. Although the levee around Lake Okeechobee held, preventing the large numbers of deaths that occurred in 1926 and 1928, over 2,000 square miles of land south of the lake was covered by, in the words of U.S. Senator Spessard Holland, “an endless sheet of water anywhere from 6 to 7 feet deep down to a lesser depth.” The Corps estimated that the storms caused $59 million in property damage throughout southern Florida, but Holland believed that the agency had “under- stated the actual figures.” The destruction shocked citizens of South Florida, both in the upper Everglades and in the coastal cities, and they demanded that something be done.”
Well, what was done was the Central and South Florida Flood Project.
Key Florida politicians, and the public demanded the Federal Government assist, and as both the resources and will were present, the project was authorized in 1948 with massive additional components making way not only for flood protection, but for even more agriculture and development. In Martin County and St Lucie County this happened by the controversial building of canals C-23, C-24, C-25 and “improving” the infamous C-44 canal that connects to Lake Okeechobee. This construction was basically the nail in the coffin for the St Lucie River and Southern Indian River Lagoon.
But before the death of the environment was clear, the Corps developed a plan that would include 1,000 miles of levees, 720 miles of canals, and almost 200 water control structures. Flooding in coastal cities and in the agricultural lands south of Lake Okeechobee would be minimized and more controllable.
Yes, a goal of the program was to provide conservation areas for water storage, protecting fish and wildlife habitat. Although water conservation areas were constructed, conservation of wildlife did not work out so well, and has caused extreme habitat degradation of the Everglades system, Lake Okeechobee, the southern and northern estuaries, the Kissimmee chain of lakes, and Florida Bay. Nonetheless, this project made possible for over five million people to now live and work in the 18,000 square mile area that extends from south of Orlando to Florida Bay “protected from flooding” but in 2017 living with serious water quality issues.
With problems apparent, in 1992 the Central and South Florida Project was “re-studied” and we continue to work on that today both for people and for wildlife…
Irma many be the system’s greatest test yet…
Yesterday’s Army Corp of Engineer Periodic Scientist Call was focused on saving people’s lives and safety. After the built-system was discussed, Mr Tyler Beck of the Florida Wildlife Commission, and Mr Steve Schubert of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported on the endangered Everglades Snail Kites and their nests at Lake Okeechobee. Like most birds, pairs mate for life. There are presently fifty-five active nests, thirty-three in incubation, and twenty-three with baby chicks…
In the coming days, as the waters rise on Lake Okeechobee, and the winds scream through an empty void that was once a cathedral of colossal cypress trees, Mother Nature will again change the lives of Florida’s wildlife and its people, just as she did in 1947. Perhaps this time, she will give us vision for a future where nature and humankind can live in greater harmony…
Today I share an incredible historic piece about commercial fishing, written by a leading citizen of Stuart’s earliest days, Mr Curt Schroeder. My mother, historian, Sandra Henderson Thurlow, transcribed his writings. They are typed from a handwritten, unpublished, manuscript. The first time she shared the piece with me I was spellbound and even speechless during parts.
As an animal lover, the story of capturing the manatee, eating loggerhead turtles, or having to tie a line around a cabbage palm tree to hold off a net full of thousands of pounds of fighting mullet was unsettling to me. Nevertheless, those were the times, people were struggling to make ends meet, and the river fed them. They were trying to get everything they could get! In time, it was realized that they were “killing the goose that laid the golden egg…”
Mr Schroeder’s excerpt about the effects of the St Lucie Canal’s (C-44) connection to the river and the destruction that followed, only reinforces my present opinion. He writes: “all self-respecting fish left the river, the silt covered the large feeding places, and the continued fresh water killed the mussels, clams and oysters, and changed the depth of our river….”
It’s all quite a story!🐟
Thank you to my mother for her work and for sharing. As it’s a long narrative, I have highlighted some of the most astounding parts for easy reading. Hope you enjoy!
COMMERCIAL FISHING IN AND AROUND THE ST. LUCIE RIVER
THE MEMORIES, THEORIES AND OPINIONS OF STUART PIONEER CURT SCHROEDER
A manuscript, handwritten by Crut Schroedure during the 1940s, was among the papers of his granddaughter Emily Beach. I have tried to type it as it was written with minimal editing and have not changed the spelling he used for local fishes. Though many of Curt Schroeder’s articles have been published in the Stuart News, I do not believe this piece has ever appeared in print. Sandra Thurlow, July 24, 1994
The crews, two gill net and one seine stayed till mid March, at Palm City, our fish camp. At the beginning of March millions of crabs came into the river and damaged our gill nets, chewing long holes along the lead-line, no sale for crab meat then. One bright moonlit night in February, Capt. John Blakeslee, father of C. D., woke the writer and asked him to get his shotgun and load it with buckshot as there was a black bear across from us, near Noah Parks’ palmetto shack. Slipping into my pants and loading the shotgun with buckshot took a moment. Coming out of our door, I could see across the way near the seine crew shack, something that looked like a bear standing motionless watching. No movement could be detected. From the rear came the encouragement, “Shoot, damn you, shoot!”
Near the line of fire were Noah’s and Sam Young’s bunks. Knowing buckshot to scatter, the watching for movement continued. Finally convinced that there was no animal across from us, we advanced and found Capt. MacCloud’s winter overcoat thrown over a small bush. Part of the overcoat was adorned with black sheepskin. It looked like a bear all right, and if this apparition had been clear of the other shack the writer would have turned loose both barrels.
Speaking of shotguns, my partner that year was a Norwegian, Anderson Stolzwig, who had built our skip jack the “Pompano.” Well Andy owned a single barrel shotgun (maybe some old-timers remember the “Zulu Guns” with the 3 inch firing pins.) This was a 12 gauge. Well in his travel overland and sea, (He had walked from Tampa to Malabar) he had lost the firing pin and used a 20-penny spike in its place. Shooting ducks from the boat, he used to warn anyone with him to stand to the left near him, as the recoil of the shot would throw the 20-penny spike back. Of course, he could not aim this gun as the firing pin would have hit him so he simply pointed the gun. He became a good shot and killed many a duck. But he had no takers when he offered his Zulu to others for a trial shot. Of course the had to carry a pound of 20-penny spikes on his hunting trips, as he never found any of the used ones after firing.
We had lots of visitors at Palm City. Our palmetto shacks stood in a fine palmetto and oak hammock. One evening Noah’s father, Uncle Ben Parks, came to see us about dusk. Standing near the writer, he asked ,”Did you hear him?.”
Of course a head shake was the answer. “Well,” he said, “a big gobbler flew up to roost within 300 yards of us.” He went off located his gobbler and next morning at daybreak, armed with his 10 gauge double-barreled shotgun, he went to the roost and killed the big gobbler.
The first seine fished in our section was manned by Brice Loveless and Noah Parks. In those days, seines ordered were hung at the factory in New York. As the crew lived at Waveland, most fishing was done in the Indian River.
In September 1895, R. D. Hoke, Harry Schultz and George Keller entered into a partnership ordered one 800-yard seine, wings of 9-thread near mid 12-thread and ________15 thread net. A very heavy seine. Their end cables were 3/4 inch rope The steamboat “Lillian” furnished the power to lay out the net, and with trip lines and pulleys hauled it ashore.
Keller was an experienced fisherman and also owned the seine boat. Their first remarkable haul was on Rocky Point in early November, they caught over 50 tons of fish, 20 tons salable, balance foul.
In this haul they had over 10,000 pounds of stingrays some weighing up to 200 pounds. As stated earlier one of the crews fishing out of Palm City was a seine crew, Noah Parks, Captain Sam Young, A. C. MacCloud and Sam Martin the crew. Noah had an accident and hurt his knees badly so to fill his crew he asked the writer to take over and captain his rig. Going towards the inlet after clearing Rocky Point, a large school of mullet was spotted, preparations made for the half circle to enclose the school of fish. Two men were set overboard in knee-deep water, at that time our shorelines were about 50 yards, as soon as the crail or end staff dropped off the boat, these men began to pull for shore. Seining the school of mullet near the shore, the writer used only 2/3 of the net, which was a 500 yard seine and got criticized for not using all the net. Seining the thick school of mullet only a crazy man would have tried to use the entire net, when our boat came near shore we pulled net off to reach shore and tied it securely to a tree. As a strong flood was running, we hauled the end first put over, to keep the net in shape, then next to the end put over last, got same in shape, returned to the first put over end, by this time there were about 250 yards of net out, after pulling a few feet, the school of fish decided it was time for their turn, the fish massed, hit the net and pulled us four men into the river, seeing this, the writer went back and tied the cork line around a cabbage palm standing on the river bank, for a few minutes the crew gained, as this was a slack, a new onset by the mullet, we dug in our heels and it seemed were holding our own, then everyone sat down or fell on the other one behind, the terrific strain was over, we hauled the net in fast, formed about 20 feet of number-9-thread webbing gone between cork and let-line. Picking up we had a 40 dollar haul, but lost about 100.000 pounds of mullet. It was the same day the “Lillian” made her big haul.
About February 1897 Noah and his crew caught a bull sea cow, manatee that weighed a ton. There was demand for sea cow in our northern zoos. The boys put an inch cable around the narrow part in front of the broad tail and fastened the other end of the cable to a cabbage palm. Delivering their catch of fish they went to Juno, the county seat, for permission to sell the manatee, same was granted. Noah came to the writer and asked him if he could load this big bulk. Having studied this beforehand, he was assured, “yes.” As the sale was confirmed on a Sunday, Noah with the crew and the writer, with two large boats went to the scene of capture. The water at the end of the cable, where the manatee rested, was 4 1/2 feet. We sank the large bateaux which could carry 3000 pounds, slipped it under the sea cow, till same rested in the center and bailed the boat dry. For some reason the old bull did not like the planking under him, he rolled over to the side and upset the boat, anticipating some trouble the manatee had not been untied. Well, the same procedure had to be gone through again. The writer dispatched one of the crew to the camp to bring an additional boat. When this boat arrived a boat was lashed to each side holding the middle one with the bull safe. The buyer had a tank built at West Palm Beach, loaded on a flatcar and brought to north Stuart where the manatee was loaded over a ramp with help of block and tackle. About two weeks later one of the New York Sunday papers told how the brave buyer had captured the monster of the deep at peril of his life. Of course our manatees are very timid, the only danger lies in coming too close to the broad tail. In deep water, a blow with that tail will knock a man senseless.
In summer 1894, Cousin Henry Stypmann and the writer had rowed down to Sewall’s Point, while there about one hundred yards off shore, the rear of the row boat went up about 2 feet above water, throwing the writer, who handled the oars, backward, all his hair standing on end. Well Henry set in the back seat laughing, asking for an explanation, he told me that the s—— of the rowboat had hit a sleeping sea cow. I had the same pleasure in the summer of 1918, sailing up river in a light skiff the center board hit a sleeping sea cow knocking the boat about a foot out of the water. The old sea cow got scared and made for the deep. Manatee Creek and Manatee Pocket also called Scobee’s Pocket, seemed to be the favored spots for sea cows to come ashore on high tides and take their sun baths. As many as 7 have been seen there at one time, sunbathing.
During the summer they came up the river and were often seen in the North and South Forks. In the early days when game was plentiful, no one though of eating manatee, but around 1916 young manatees were butchered, pickled and smoked, the meat tasting like pork. In April 1897, C. D. Blakeslee and self decided to take up seining. Charles had ordered a 350 yard specified cotton net. When this net arrived, we went up to his homestead to tar and hang this net. Having given lots of thought to this new undertaking — this was the first seine hung in South Florida. — We hung our cork-line reasonably tight, the lead-line was pulled tight by two men and securely tied, making same 20 feet shorter than the cork line. In hanging the net, each cork and lead were tied separately. Captain John kept our hanging needles filed and Robert, better known as “Pete,” by his friends was the chef, conscientiously cooking three pots of Lima beans each day, the fourth day Pete struck as cook. Our first one-man strike in upper Dade. Pete by inclination and training was a horse trainer, also a good man with cattle. Pete trained trotting horses, owned a rig of his own and won many a race in Yankee land. From 1912 till 1918 he was a teamster and always had fine horses. He passed away in 1926, while this writer was North.
Coming to the fish house with our small seine, Uncle Ernest Stypmann, then part owner of the fish house said, “Once already that seine will never glut our marked.” The 350 yards of light twine 4-inch mesh on wings. Three and one half-inch bunt–looked a very small pile. We ran 100 yard end lines which gave us a 550 yard half-circle. After handling it a few days making paying catches, the two of us made 8 hauls a day. Three weeks after our first landing at the fish house we came in with 1200 pounds of large pompano and about 400 pounds of bottom fish. Well, Uncle Ernest scratched his beard. Ogletree said he’d take 600 pounds of pompano at 6 cents and ship 600 pounds or three barrels on commission, bottom fish 1 cent per pound. It seemed the little seine had glutted the market. Each barrel and packing the fish was $2.00. The commission 10 percent. About six days after our catch, Ogletree made the proposition to give us 6 cents per pound for the fish sent out on commission. Our attitude was that we take what the commission sale would bring, win or loose. These pompano had been sent to Washington D. C. and returned eighty bucks for the 3 barrels, $8.00 for commission and $6.00 for the 3 barrels ice and packing, left $64.00 for the fish. About 10 1/2 cents per pound. No wonder Ogletree wanted to take them at 6 cents. The pompano market became glutted that late spring. To keep on making grits we caught 500 pounds of pompano for M. R. Johns, who paid us $10.00 as we caught the fish in two hauls in less than 3 hours, we were making many.
By 1901 seining was in full swing. There were 3 fish house on the river. In February 1901, a big run of sheepshead had come up the river, the writer was fishing gill nets, Gus Griffin, was our helper, that night the gill nets picked up 50,000 pounds of sheepshead, our boat had 5000 pounds. Charles Blakeslee and hid dad caught 48,000 in their seine haul at Rocky Point. Russian Ed got over 90,000 pounds at Sewall’s Point. The sheepshead were so thick and massed, that a man could have walked on them for a long distance. The sheepsheads will fight a net for a short while, but not as savage and massed as mullet. Two days after these catches the market broke. You could not sell sheepshead for anything.
In 1904 we had three fish houses on the River, and 15 seines running, fishing North and South Fork our main bay, Hogg’s Cove, the sandsprit and the Indian River at Bessey’s Cove. Fishing was good. In February, March and April, big schools of blues came up river to spawn and feed. The seines made big catches of blues. Our first Palmer-powered launches turned out for trawling caught big catches with two lines running. One hundred pound per hour trolling catch was common that spring per boat with one man.
Fall 1902 instead of fishing, a garden was started. Beans, tomatoes, squash were planted on about three acres, located from the east side of the Stuart Department Store to the east end of the Pressel Building, including Osceola Avenue, to near the Post Office, also Seminole Street. As the strong northers were hurting the growth of plants we had to put up a 10 foot high wind brake, getting edgings for same from the Dupont and Middleton Sawmill on the north side of the River, location was South of the Wiley Garage, this mill cut 25,000 square feet each day. The first vegetables planting paid expenses and some profit. Our pineapples were making money and carpenter work during winter months helped out. Prospects were grand. Everyone here was making money. One met none but smiling faces. Our banner crop of 1908 promised great returns, till the F. E. C. turned loose their Cuban Fruit Express. The operation of same has been explained in a former article. Christmas Eve 1909 brought a slight freeze and February 1910 brought a white frost. The writer with John Michelis as a partner and Jack Spiers had farmed at Cane Slough fall 1909 till mid June 1910. The Christmas cold killed our beans, four acres between the three February white frosts killed another four acres. In March, Johns and self had 1 1/4 acre of fine Irish potatoes ready to dry when a heavy rainfall flooded same, loss about $500.00. The three of us had 5, more acres of potatoes on the west side of Big Cane Slough, but same so planted later were badly damaged by the flood and brought only a few bushel large enough to sell locally. That season’s farming will never be forgotten. The writer had never handled teams or plows. Jack and John did our plowing, the three of us had bought a good big horse, “Jim.” as they did the plowing. Well they wished a bull and three oxen on me to do the disking. Oh boy, what a life! The two yokes pulling the disks moved about 1 1/2 miles per hour. As a short handled 10-foot whip went along, it took a very short time to learn how to flick a small piece of hide from the oxen. The bull when whipped, would stop, and the three oxen had to haul the disk and the bull. No more whipping the bull, but speed went down to about 1 mile per hour. On a Saturday night coming to town, saw my friend Pete Blakeslee and asked his advise about the bull — how to accelerate his movements. Well Pete laughed, said believe it or not, but try it, takes a small piece of board put it under the bulls tail take a piece of wood about 2 inches wide 4 to 6 inches long, use the edge of same and scrape the bull’s tail, but be sure you are free of whatever the bull is hitched too. Will next Monday while disking with the ox and bull team, when the bull — he belonged to Hans Olsen –got lazy, the board and scraper was tried. I am glad that Pete had advised to stand clear, as after about four scrapes, the bull tried to run away with the disk and oxen. Only one more scrape treatment was given after that, banging the two pieces of wood was enough to convince the bull it was time to work. Well, the best this ox and bull team would do was one-half acre in 10 hours. Rental for the ox and bull team was 40 quarts of sweet feed per day, also the rounding up of same every morning as these cattle were turned loose to graze. Well on the 8th day the writer went on a strike. No more oxen or bulls– too pay for work returned. We hired Byron Ball’s “Nellie,” a large black mare and with our “Jim” had a fine span of houses, turned out 1 1/2 acres and better per day of well disked land. Growing that year was jinxed: freeze out, frost out, drown out — after the water had run off, John agreed to go in with two acres of tomatoes. Picking out a piece of good prairie land, the writer did his first plowing and turned up two acres in two days. Luckily, Will Crews, had a very large seed bed of tomatoes, ready to plant. Well, we planted our tomatoes in the damp soil and with plenty of fertilizer they grew rapidly and in early May plenty of fruit had set. There was hope that we might retrieve some of our losses. Well you know, “Hope is eternal,” as May sped into June, hope was lost, as we did not have a drop of rain till near the end of June. Our tomatoes were looking fine and had plenty of fruit, but on account of the drought were too small to ship. We sold plenty of tomatoes locally at 10 cents per basket, shipped about 10 crates North.
Our pineapple crop that year was very small, no prospects of any work. Well, when we went out to Cane Slough in early November 1909, we had no debts, some cash money. Coming back we owed the Trueman Fertilizer Company 457 bucks. The feed fill at Parks’ $100.00, our grocery bill nearly $200.00 and we had done seven months of hard work, hours from daylight to dark. As we sold our team, the feed bill was paid, the pineapple crop helped to pay for some of the groceries. Well, things did not look rosy. Talking things over with the boys here, seine fishing was thought of the sinecure.
Well in 1910 it was against the law to seine as matters were grave, the writer went to West Palm Beach, to ask for help from the County Commissioners while in session. The help asked was to allow seining. As the County Commissioners had not made the law, they could not set same aside. Well, Capt. Baker, our first sheriff of Palm Beach County, was tackled, he was told that matters were really desperate. It was a matter of robbing a bank or breaking the law seining. Old Capt. shook his head, “Curt, if you rob a bank, I will put you in the pen, if you seine, well if I don’t see you, I can’t catch you.” Well this oracle was good enough.
With the exception of about 10 elderly men every male went a-seining. John Michaelis and self got an 800 yard used seine weak in spots, a round bottom seine boat with a 5 horse power Palmer and a large bateaux. Seining method had advanced, using 200 yards of 3/8 end-lines on each end of the net, the net was hauled ashore by one man windlass power and about 200 yards of each side of the half circle was hauled in by windlass, balance of 400 yards was hauled in by hand. Six months of fishing paid up the farming debt my share about $600. In the summer of 1910, the river was full of pompano, one thousand pound per single haul occurred often. One day in August, while laying out, our seine got around a school of pompano over on the sandsprit in front of Rio, as we reeled the net to shore the cork line in about the center broke in two and the web tore half way down. We tied the net back together — when the haul was finished we had 853 pounds of pompano. How many got away? Who knows? In September John and self ordered a new net and new lines, our lead lines now were double lines, to avoid the rolling of the seine when hauled in. We tarred one net and hung it. As part of the net was hauled by hand the lead line in an eight hundred yard seine was at least 60 feet shorter than the cork-line, object to form a slack in the web to kind of pocket the fish when pulled ashore — later regular pockets were knit into the bunt. About October John decided to go to West Palm Beach leaving me to look for a new partner. Well, my good friend Bill Baker wanted to try, we fished for two weeks, made about $15.00 between us in that time, one day in the second week we caught an eight pound loggerhead turtle, Bill said, “There is some fine meat. Let’s kill it, when we get home.” Well we got home, sometime, in 1909, while horse trading, the legislature enacted a law, declaring it illegal to kill loggerheads, or have their meat in possession. Knowing the law and also knowing that Bill Baker was our Justice of Peace, Bill was told if his kids needed meat, he was elected to decapitate said Loggerhead. The writer was willing to do the butchering. Well, we ate turtle meat for supper. Bill quit on Saturday night. Pete Blakeslee who had just returned from the nutmeg state was elected to jump in. In our first haul next Monday night we caught about 3000 pounds of mutton fish, snooks and some pompano at total of $35.00. We had made the bill haul, and after making same steady each day took out over $1000.00 in 6 weeks time. Who was jinxed in Bill’s time?
Through the years all obstructions: logs, brush, tree trunks had been hauled ashore. The river bed was cleared, there were a few places up the North Fork and in Hogg’s Cove where the bottom was muck which would foul the lead-line and pull the seine under. These spots were avoided.
When we started seining in July 1910 we started fishing at night, on account of the “no seine law” which Capt. Baker’s dictum had eased considerably. One night, going up the South Fork to make a haul, we came close to the shore near the junction of the North and Sough Forks, someone was hauling a seine there. The Next day we learned that Capt. Hansen with Jack Spiers and Cleve had been nearly caught fishing, when they saw our boat they had taken to the Palmettos believing the law had come for them. Talk about poetic justice, about three weeks later, the same thing happened, only this time John and the writer who melted soundlessly into the saw palmettos, and Jack, Cleve and Hansen had the laugh. After an hour of hiding we came out finished our haul, most the fish got away, we sold about $3.00 worth that night. The opening of the St. Lucie Canal brought great changes. The roiled water ran out all self respecting fish, the silt covered the large feeding places, and the continued fresh water killed the mussels, clams and oysters. During the years it changed the depth of our river. The North and South had an average depth of about 14 feet, our main bay 16 feet and better — figures set up by the 1895 Geodetic Survey of our Government. All these bodies have shallowed more than 4 feet. Most of the clear sand bottom is gone, now filled over with silt and muck. Fishing methods changed in former years it took two boats, power and bateaux, two good men could make two hauls a day an eight hundred yard seine using elbow grease and hand windlass. Now a different style of net is used, hung in reverse to the old customs, the lead line being about 100 foot longer than the cork line. Each crew has two heaving engines, hauling shorelines and net in by power, a seine crew now used 4 boats. The silt bottom changed the method of hauling. In former years the lead line at all times was ahead of the cork line. Now the lead line, weighted down with about 4 times the amount of lead used in former years, drags many feet behind the cork line. This kind of fishing today seems to be all fun and no work.
Seining laws have been enacted several time in the past 40 years. Many theories have been advanced pro and con. The earliest theory advanced was that seining would catch up all the fish and there would be none left to catch. I twice overheard conversations, when a big seine catch was brought in, a gill-net crew said, “It was no use to set the net that night as the damn seiner had caught all the fish in the river.” Another a few days later where a tourist made nearly the same remark. What a nonsense, what folly!
If our river was a closed body of water without ingress or egress to sea, these remarks would have been well founded, but with an inlet at the mouth of our river and more inlets within 20 miles each way, such remarks are more than foolish. Most of our fish varieties are migrating. Our pompano during a part of the year go as far as Africa, coming in from the sea in small schools on the November quarter moon, followed in December and January. When coming in from the sea, they are lean and silver white in color, within four weeks their bellies show a slight golden hue and in three months the fat set only the rich river-fed pompano shows golden color in two-thirds of their body. Pompano feed on small white-shelled clams. Far back in their mouth they have a “kind of nutcracker” with which they crack the clam shell. By the beginning of June the Pompano show roe. By August they have finished spawning. Blues, mackerel, trout and sheephead go north. Mutton fish and snooks, just as the mullets, go and come, many of them stay the year around. The Jew fish–large kind of bass– seems native, same as flounders. Sailor’s choice used to come in large schools and were regular on the first North Easters in September each year. The Gaff-top sail cat migrates and comes back in January and February. Tarpon come up in June to spawn. The young tarpon stay up river and can be found there in considerable schools. All kinds of fish return from October till March to spawn in our shallows. Seining is bringing in considerable amounts of “new” money from out of State. Seines seem to deplete, but at the same time destroys, thousand of game fish that would have devoured near the amounts caught in years to come.
Before the war, fish was a staple food for the poor. Now it seems only rich people can eat fish. Two years ago a three pound flounder was brought home cost, cleaned and dressed, ninety-five cents. Well, well, we used to get three cents for a three pound flounder. Have not had anymore flounders at my house since.
Seining keeps the river bottom clean and free of snags and stranded trees. It helps to mix the spawn dropped by the different varieties of fish. You may know that when fish spawn they go into shallow waters drop their spawn and roil the sand and water, that the commotion will mix the white milky spawn with the yellow roe–fish eggs. The seines hauling over the spawning grounds again stir water and sand and help to fruition much of the spawn that laid there sterile. Of course the haul has to be made within a few hours after the spawning. Mullet and Jack fish could be heard for miles over the river in calm nights while spawning.
Our first outrage against seining was the custom of the seine crew to ‘bail” the foul fish ashore, in the very early days there were few homes on the river but with the influx of people, more and more homes were built along our shores. Well you have heard of tourists. Have you heard of tourist buzzards? I mean the bird. Well, from 1901, for years, there were thousands of buzzards on our and the Indian River. They came in November and left in April. Tons of foul fish were dumped ashore daily. After the seine law in 1909, the buzzards stopped coming. It was common sight to see 100 to 200 buzzards run along the shore in one flock. In September 1917, Russian Ed caught a school of sailor’s choice on the Indian River, sold 50,000 pounds and let more than 100,000 pounds rot there, creating a stench that stayed there for many weeks.
Some of our masons belonging to the Chapter and Commadery at Fort Pierce, used to make weekly runs via Dixie to For Pierce and were near choked traversing that stench zone on the Indian River. We voted seining out that year. The fault that seining has been voted out time and again lies with the fisherman. In the years long ago, it was the dumping of foul fish that raised opposition, later there was “greediness.” by using smaller and smaller mesh in their bunts and pockets.
When we started seining, we used four-inch mesh on wings and three and one-half inch mesh in center. Two pound blues, trout and large mullet would gill, or rather “jam” and were caught. One and a half-pound fish would easily go through the mesh, occasionally we had a one and one-half pound trout or blue, bundled up with other fish but these were exceptions. Today with the small mesh, trout, blues mackerel, mullet and other fish are caught that weigh less than one pound. A two pound fish spawns and reproduces, a one pound fish is not developed for spawning and when caught cannot reproduce. Continued practice of this will help to lower reproduction. A sensible seine law should be passed allowing 800 yard seines, prescribing four-inch mesh wings and the bunt of 150 yards to be three and one-half inch mesh. The web hung four inches and three and one-half inches to each two meshes. This would give half grown fish a chance to find its way through the mesh. Any net with smaller mesh should be confiscated for good, burned or destroyed by rock line, so later legal tricks could not restore such net to some mysterious owner.
Laws of protection for spawning fish should be set out for each species. Fish are spawning the year around when one species finished another starts, etc. These laws would protect the fishermen and assure him and posterity of plenty of fish. Catching pompano of under one pound (in bygone years they brought one cent per pound) a wise fisherman should return these small pompano to the river as the hauling ashore does little harm to them.
But with the seine law, restrictions should be more stringent about gill nets in the forbidden zone of the inlet. Up to 1901 there were no restrictions about fishing in the or near the Inlet. John Michaelis and self fished partner boats with Captain John Houston and his brother, making our circles just outside the mouth of the inlet. Later when the Houstons returned to Eau Galie we fished with Phil O’Brien, and old Bank fisherman from Glouchester, Massachusetts. We saw after 1901 many a net drift end ways out of the Inlets, forbidden waters, then as today. In the old time we used two sets of ten-foot oars. Now power boats capable of making 20 m. p. h. fish these waters, use their bright spotlights to dazzle the fish and catch them easier than the old-timer ever dreamed of. It is not a common practice to fish the forbidden zone, but believe it is fished. This new power method turns many a fish back into sea, that would have come into the river.
Many of the fish here have different methods to evade capture, mullet and pompano will jump the cork line. A trout, watching the encroachment of the net, will back off, get his underfins busy, fan a hole into the sand, stick his snout into the hole and let the lead-line slip over his head and body. We never made big trout catches in the old days. The good old snook will stick his snout into a mesh open his jaws, get his two razor blades, located in front of the gills, busy and cut himself out. A mullet will jump to a light. In the old days it was easy to catch a mess of mullet at night. A lantern sat on the thwart would do the trick, but you sure had to douse the light quickly, as there were more than enough mullet around to sink the boat.
Neither seine nor gill nets have diminished our food-fish supply. The disregard, legal or illegal, of catching fish during spawning periods will make our returning schools of fish ever smaller.
As stated, the different times, each species of food fish should be protected by stringent Federal laws. We had a state mullet law, trying to protect that fine food fish for about 15 days each year. (Who laughed?) Well, our fine Indian River mullet are few and far between, in the 1890s they came in schools of millions.
Seine and gill net fishermen and their dealers should ask for decent laws, including closed seasons of at least 4 weeks for all salt-water food-fish, to protect this great industry that has brought many millions to our state. Get together, there is no use of the pot calling the kettle black.