Bloom made a normally slow August even worse, they say.
Jim Gallagher, a manager at Cannons Marina in Longboat Key, motioned toward a stack of papers on his desk.
“Business is way off, he said. “It’s a slow time of year for us. But, instead of renting seven or eight boats a day, we’re renting none.”
The reason? Red tide. Throughout Longboat Key, it’s the same story. Red tide, also known as Karenia brevis, is an algae bloom that comes and goes in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Of late, it's been lingering in Sarasota's coastal waters, though conditions seemed to improve a bit in the last week of August. But locals know the smell and dead fish could return any time.
“On Aug. 10, we watched 100 snook die right out here,” he said.
While red tide occurs frequently and has been around for centuries, what makes this latest outbreak annoying and costly, Longboat residents, business owners and people who work on the key have said, is that this particular algae bloom seems to be lingering longer than usual.
The economic toll on businesses is not yet known. Experts say it's hard to predict when it will fade, but last weekend's rainy, blustery weather associated with Tropical Storm Gordon might offer some temporary relief, along with persistent offshore winds.
The Longboat Key Chamber of Commerce has sent a survey to its 350 members to gauge how the red tide outbreak has affected business. Results are expected to be available in early September, said Gail Loefgren, chamber president.
“We don’t know what kind of economic aid is coming,” said Loefgren, explaining that the chamber is gathering this information to show state and federal officials. The chamber is also being inundated with telephone calls from seasonal residents who want to know what is going on with red tide.
“Everybody has taken a hit,” said Loefgren.
That includes the local liquor store.
Glen Schloneger, proprietor of LBK Liquors, said last week that business was down 60% year over year.
“There are no tourists,” he said. “But, I will forgo a salary before I lay people off.”
Recently dead fish and a couple of sting rays could be found floating on the water along the walkway at a vacant Bayfront Park. And there was a strong dead fish smell in the air. As of Aug. 30, Longboat has collected more than 160,000 pounds of dead sea life. All clean-up work is being done by the town’s public works department.
At the Blue Dolphin Café, red tide has been the topic of the day for weeks, said Jeanine Stebbins, who has been a manager at the popular island eatery for two decades. Business is always slow in August and early September but should pick up in October when the seasonal residents begin to return, she said. So far, the restaurant has not had to reduce hours or furlough employees because of red tide.
Stebbins said she began to notice the decaying fish smell in early August. Around that time, she said, some of the year-round residents – and eatery regulars – headed north to escape the smell.
“They said they had to just get away,” she said.
Hal Christensen, general manager of Harry’s Continental Kitchens which has been around for four decades, said red tide has sliced its dining business in half.
“There is no tourism and the locals have gone someplace,” Christensen said.
“At nights, we usually have 20 to 30 people,” he said. “Now we may have four people at night.”
So far, Harry’s has not had to eliminate staff at the restaurant, its corner store and catering business, Christensen said. The restaurant closed at the end of August, as planned, and will reopen when the snowbirds return in October, he said.
“We have seasonal employees, they are used to it,” Christensen said of the closure.
Stephanie Claussen, owner of Stef’s Stuff, a high-end consignment shop in Longboat, said she blames the national publicity that red tide has received.
“People see the news and think they may go someplace else,” she said. “This is the slow time of year and this is Mother Nature. Pollution has added to it.”