Is It Safe To Fish During Red Tide?

Fishing is a hobby and lifestyle that many people in the world share and enjoy. Some just participate in sport, some as a profession, and others as a primary food source. With the waters becoming increasingly contaminated around the world, some waters bring in brown, red, or murky looking tides. These can be alarming to many residents of coastal areas and cause them to put their fishing off until the water clears. 

Is it safe to fish during Red Tide? You can fish during Red Tide, but it is not advised. Red Tide can kill and contaminate a variety of marine life and is harmful to humans. Most humans are affected when consuming shellfish, breathing in the toxins, or upon skin contact. 

Red Tide occurs naturally in many coastal areas around the world. However, water pollution from human sewage and agricultural runoff has caused unsafe levels of toxins in certain areas. These Red Tides are also commonly known as harmful algal blooms. When the algae are in high concentration, that is when water appears discolored and murky. These unnatural and high concentration areas are often associated with marine and wildlife mortalities and harmful human exposure. 

Is It Safe to Fish During Red Tide?

Red Tide is most often found in the United States in shallow tides along the western Atlantic Ocean, the Carribean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, and the eastern Pacific Ocean. Many harmful blooms have been identified off the coast of Florida and Maine. 

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, many of the Red Tides create toxins and chemicals that are harmful or even deadly to marine organisms and humans. In Florida, the organisms produce brevetoxins that attack the central nervous systems of fish and other vertebrates. This is what causes animals to die. 

The Conservation Commission also states that wave action in the infected water is what causes the cells to break open and releases toxins into the air. This is the most common way for humans to be affected, and the toxins in the air are known to cause respiratory irritation. If you have pre-existing respiratory conditions (asthma, emphysema, etc.) the toxic air can lead to serious or even fatal illnesses. 

Exposure to contaminated water can also cause some people to have skin irritation and burning eyes. This most often occurs when swimming in infected waters but can occur when on a fishing vessel as well. Any of these symptoms, as well as respiratory irritation, is especially common in people that have allergies to any plant products.

If you find yourself in an area with obvious signs of dead marine life, steer clear. The dead bodies of fish and other organisms will add to the bacteria levels in the water. This makes fishing, swimming, and boating among the Red Tide even more hazardous. 

How Red Tide Effects Marine Life

Algal bloom affects the entire ecosystem that it encounters. The red algae produce toxins that infect the water, the air, and then the animals that come into contact with it. The toxins present in the algae is harmful to mammals, birds, and turtles. Most smaller marine life will become infected first. Other larger marine creatures, such as dolphins and manatees, will become infected after consuming fish that have already been contaminated. Many birds die due to similar exposure after consuming fish. 

Another known impact that Red Tide has on marine life is the accumulation of toxins in molluscan filter-feeders. This would include oysters, clams, muscles, and other shellfish. People who consume these contaminated shellfish can experience Neurotoxic Shellfish Poisoning.

The Red Tide is not only hazardous to marine life because of the toxins animals are exposed to, but because the algae can also deplete the dissolved oxygen within the water it inhabits. These ocean dead zones are primarily caused by microbes and bacteria that feed on the algae when it dies. This, in turn, means that they consume much of the oxygen in the area, leaving little for the fish and other marine life. 

What Causes Red Tide?

Documented off the coast of Florida as far back as the 1500s by Spanish explorers, the Red Tide can be a natural phenomenon in many places around the world. Recent studies and a documented increase in Red Tides and Ocean Dead Zones proves that many algae blooms are now caused by water pollution and climate change. 

Microscopic algae are plentiful across the expanse of the ocean. These algae are essential to the ocean food web by harnessing energy from the sun. However, since they are incredibly efficient at taking on nutrients and energy, they can easily multiply. When supplied with excessive amounts of nutrients, they multiply uncontrollably. The algae groups together more ferociously and becomes the unwanted mass known as the Red Tide. 

The nutrients that feed the algae generally come from inland areas, especially farmland, and flows as runoff into streams and rivers. Once these nutrients reach the ocean, they supply the algae with an unnecessarily large amount of food. Not all masses of algae are red, and some will be a murky brown color. The colors come from the algae species present in the area of the runoff supply of inland pollution. 

These tides can last up to a year or longer depending on their location. Some will only be present in an area for up to a week. Most of the time, they will subside and then become a recurring event depending on the time of year. Many physical and biological conditions influence the growth rate of the algae, including the amount of exposure to the sun, species growth rate, salinity of the water, wind and water currents, and supply of nutrients.

No single factor creates the Red Tide. They will come and go naturally but can be accelerated by the impacts of human development and pollution. The blooms only form when given the right interaction between their biology, the chemistry of nutrients, and the ocean currents. 

Other Precautions To Take During Red Tide

While human fatalities associated with the Red Tide are generally low, there are still precautions you and your family should take around water that had the algae. If you do choose to catch fish in water that is currently contaminated, be wary. Do not catch or consume fish that seem distressed or are dead. If you do decide to eat the fish, you catch in the Red Tide, be sure that they are properly filleted. Most of the time this will remove potentially dangerous toxins as they are concentrated on organs and gills. Do not eat shellfish that come from a Red Tide. They are easily contaminated when they filter water.

You will also want to be cautious of pets when around an area with an algae bloom. Many pets, such as dogs, love to swim and play in the water. This exposure alone may not bother them, but they will usually groom themselves after swimming. This then exposes them to the bacteria and algae present, and they will ingest the toxins. 

If you live in an area with a low water table or there are more frequent occurrences of Red Tide and Ocean Dead Zones, be aware of drinking water warnings. Tap water supplies have been contaminated in the past, and government bodies are required to notify the public when it is unsafe to drink or boil tap water. The Environmental Protection Agency warns that as climate change and environmental pollution continue, more cases of drinking water contamination will be present. 
For more information and alerts about Red Tide along the Eastern coastline and the Gulf of Mexico, visit the NOAA Tides and Currents Website. If you or a pet have had recent exposure to a potentially harmful algal bloom, consult a physician. If you’re unsure if you are experiencing symptoms associated with harmful algae, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention website.

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