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Fish may want drought to stick around a while
By ERIC STIRGUS
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 25, 2000
You might suspect that the current drought would be bad news for fish swimming around the water-starved lakes, ponds and canals in this area.
You would be wrong.
The drought eventually will help freshwater fish and the lakes, ponds and canals they live in, said Gary Morse, a spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.
"These are common misconceptions people have," he said Wednesday. The drought is "a natural process which cleans the lake."
Many lakes and ponds are filled with muck that sits at the bottom, suffocating fish eggs that need oxygen to hatch, he said. The muck is caused by fertilizers that creep into the bodies of water and cause buildups on the sand at the bottom.
As water recedes in a drought, the muck is exposed to sunlight, Morse explained. That destroys it, making the body of water cleaner when normal levels return. "It could be beneficial to lakes," said Lenny Crispino, owner of Tarpon Tom's Bait and Tackle Shop in Palm Harbor. "With that bottom exposed, it's allowing (the bottom) to dry up and dissipate."
In recent weeks, some officials have been concerned that some fish might die from the drought. Late last week, Largo Public Works drainage employees filled several garbage bags with dead bass, Nile perch and brill that they found in a canal south of East Bay Drive near Highland Avenue.
Public Works Director Chris Kubala said the fish kill has department staff concerned about the lack of rain.
"We need some rain to start getting back in these creeks and ponds," he said.
But Morse said it is unlikely those fish kills were drought-related. He believes that rain, rather than drought, is the real threat. Rains after a drought will wash more fertilizers and other nutrients into the water, which will begin a process that will suck much of the oxygen out of the water.
While Crispino believes the drought will help larger bodies of water, he believes smaller bodies of water such as retention ponds will suffer. Crispino said scavengers such as turkey buzzards are swooping into shallow bodies of water and eating fish. He believes there is a danger of these waters becoming bone dry.
Morse disputed such statements, saying that rains eventually will replenish those bodies of water.
Though the drought is seen as a possible boon for freshwater fish, some area anglers have complained they have seen fewer saltwater fish. Bazad Mahmodi, a scientist for the Florida Marine Research Institute, speculated that the drought has reduced plant life in waters off St. Pete Beach and Tampa Bay, leaving less food for fish.
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