Red tide cut the summer season short for Longboat Key businesses, managers say.
This year’s summer season came to a grinding halt last week, business owners say.
It wasn’t the heat, and it wasn’t a hurricane, but rather a heft of rotting fish that washed around Longboat Key.
Town staff collected 10,440 pounds of dead sea life from canals on the east side of the Key in three days, a mass of decaying material that created a putrid smell on the island. The town worked on clearing dead fish from the gulf-side beaches on Monday, working from the Broadway area to the south.
“Unfortunately, we had to cut back — our staff has been cut back by 25 percent,” said Wil Stutzman, general manager at Dry Dock Waterfront Grill. “Financially, it’s been cut by a good 40%, that’s a huge amount. I anticipate this happening in the third week of August.”
Shane Catts, a co-founder of Happy Paddler Kayak Tours and EcoVentures, which has a location at Bayfront Park, said red tide is second only to a hurricane when it comes to effect on his business.
Kayakers and paddle boarders have been asking him for trips, but Catts has been refusing business because he knows he can’t deliver the kind of experience they're seeking.
“I wouldn’t put people out in this,” Catts said. “A lot of people still want to go, but I think once people got out there they’d realize it’s not something you want to be in.”
The problem business owners are having is the smell — it’s keeping customers away.
Most of the smell that’s driven business off the island comes from the thousands of dead fish that have been killed as a result of this year’s red tide bloom. Red tide, known in the scientific world as Karenia brevis, produces toxins that are fatal to marine life and also known to cause respiratory irritation in humans.
Longboat Key town staff were in boats Tuesday through Thursday removing dead fish from the town’s canals. Dry Dock used a large net to get the fish out from under its building, Stutzman said.
But for Edwin Toro, the owner of the Fun Life Entertainment Water Park on the north end of the island, there isn’t much he can do to help.
“We shut down early on Friday (Aug. 3), and I’ve been going over there every single day to see if it’s getting better. It doesn’t appear to be worse, but it doesn’t seem any better,” Toro said. “We haven’t been able to conduct business, nobody has wanted to be in the water.”
For Toro, this is devastating, he said. It’s his only source of income, and he hasn’t been making any money since red tide hit the area. And he doesn’t know when it will end, adding a level of uncertainty for his wife and four children.
The question about when this will end is one Gail Loefgren, president of the Longboat Key Chamber of Commerce, said should be left to the experts.
“I think you have to look to the scientists to see what kind of relief we can get from it,” Loefgren said.