Would you attend Thanksgiving dinner if there was no turkey to eat?
Americans love Thanksgiving. Family, food, and no shopping. How could a Holiday be better? I believe most of us would agree that Thanksgiving dinner is one of the most agreeable and enjoyable family holidays of our culture. And so I ask you a simple question, if you invited your family to Thanksgiving dinner this November and there was no food on the table when they arrived, would they return next year?
In my last post, I promised my amateur opinion regarding why the bonefish in the Florida Keys seem to be disappearing. I have reviewed scientific articles posted on the website of “The Bonefish and Tarpon Trust.” I have googled the topic and skimmed various other articles, but I think the answer is simple and grounded in common sense. Bonefish do not swim onto flats to feed where there is no food.
Bonefish eat shrimp, crabs, worms, Toadfish, and other living creatures which live in saltwater. Shrimp, crabs, worms and every living creature on the dynamically diversified and interesting flats of the Florida Keys must eat as well. Bonefish will return to flats where the saltwater hosts food. Bonefish are like our hungry family members at Thanksgiving. If there is no food on the table when they are hungry , next year, no one will come home to eat.
I am not a political human being. My wife would say I am moderately informed. To her credit, she keeps herself well-informed as should we all. An ill-informed opinion is merely guess-work. However, I do know all of us engage in activities which are harmful to the environment.
A recent headline in the Columbus Dispatch reads, “West Virginia chemical floats past Ohio.” The article began with the following ominous statement; “As the Ohio River delivers a noxious chemical from a huge spill in Charleston, West Virginia, to points farther south and west, cities along the river are keeping tabs on their own water supplies.”
It is easy for me to criticize this spill of commercial chemicals. But come this spring, I will want a beautiful lawn. I will hire an invisible “Lawn Company” to put chemicals on my yard. I live approximately 400 yards from the Olentangy River. It is without argument that some of the chemicals on my lawn will make their way to the Olentangy. My Grandchildren will play in my yard this summer on the grass fertilized with these chemicals. On beautiful summer days, I will rig my fly rod or spinning rod and wade in the Olentangy and fish for smallmouth bass. Those fish and my grandchildren will be exposed to chemicals which I voluntarily put on my grass.
I drive a car. Most of you do as well. I ask myself and you the following question. Would you stand immediately behind your exhaust pipe and intentionally inhale your car’s exhaust. I would not. In fact, when it is cold out and I can see the exhaust, I intentionally walk around it if I am exiting my car for some reason while the engine is running. I expect some of you have done the same thing. And yet, when it comes to the effect of carbon on our atmosphere, our thinking is influenced by our politics, our view of business versus individual rights, and our take on whether the world and its resources are to be used, protected or both.
A recent article in the Columbus Dispatch was entitled, “Climate science should not be a partisan issue”. The commentary was written by Michael Smerconish who writes for The Philadelphia Inquirer. He opens his piece by describing his walk down 49th St. and the Avenue of the Americas in midtown Manhattan on January 6. At the time it was 57°. By early the next morning, New York City was reeling in -12° temperatures.
He wondered how the frigid weather experienced by 180 million Americans could support the global warming model for climate change. He called Jennifer Francis, a climate scientist at Rutgers University and she offered a compelling view which left him wondering how her profession ever became subject to partisan divide.
As the Polar Vortex slammed cold temperatures throughout the country, Rush Limbaugh wasn’t “buying it”. Donald Trump referenced “this whole global warming hoax” poking fun at the global warming scientists and their frozen ship at the South Pole. From the left, John Stewart was quick to respond by lampooning a number of Fox personalities and their failure to distinguish between opinion and fact.
Nothing new, the right and left do not agree. Why not, Professor Francis offers: “I don’t think it’s a clean political slice down the line, she said. “But that said, in certain parties there is more business interest related to fossil fuel industries and, of course, if we decide we don’t want to use fossil fuels anymore, then they stand to lose a lot of money, so there’s a big financial stake there. I think there may also be some religious component to it, and some people believe that humans could never do something like this, and perhaps God would not allow us to do something like this, so there are different beliefs out there that come into play that are difficult to change people’s minds when they’re so ingrained.”
In a somewhat humorous analogy, the writer points to a Pew Research survey that show that 60% of Americans believe in evolution, while a third do not. The latter number has remained constant in the past few years. However, just five years ago there was only a 10% difference between Republicans and Democrats on the issue and that gap regarding whether or not humans have evolved has widened to 24 points at present.
As for why the extreme weather comports with her model of climate change, Francis pointed out that on January 15, Alaska was warmer than Atlanta, the former having had a very warm month of December. Lauri and I learned on our summer Alaska cruise that there remains only one advancing glacier in Alaska. The rest are in retreat.
In the January 19 Columbus Dispatch, an editorial reveals that Norfolk, Virginia is already spending millions of dollars on construction projects, to deal with the rise of sea levels in the area. There are billions yet to be spent. Residents are quoted as bring tired of driving through salt water.
Professor Francis writes, “So the connection to climate change, we think, is that what we are seeing is the jet stream taking these kind of very wild swings north and south more often now. And we believe that is related to the fact that the Arctic is warming so much faster than the rest of the country…. When we make this difference in temperature between the Arctic and areas farther south smaller, which is what is happening as the Arctic warms so fast, the jet stream responds to this by becoming more wavy, so we think this is at least one factor that’s connected to the increasing frequency of these kinds of extreme weather events all around the Northern Hemisphere.”
Interestingly, a friend and Client who knows I love the Florida Keys brought me a copy of the Key West Citizen from Christmas Day, 2013. A flats captain was describing the year fishing in the Keys and his words were that it was plainly “not good”. As you review the article, it becomes clear that the primary reason for the fishing not being good in his opinion was the inconsistent weather.
I reference climate change because of the tremendous bonefish kill of 2010. Some estimate that approximately 240,000 Florida Keys bonefish were killed because of a consistent low temperature. Most certainly, there have been fish kills in Florida on prior occasions. However, the cold temperatures in 2010 were colder for a longer period of time than any other periods of cold temperature in well over 20 years.
However, it is clear that some bonefish still exist. Most certainly, they will rebound, will they not? In my view, based strictly on an angler’s sense, the extent of recovery will directly relate to the quality of the water and the habitat. Keep turtle grass healthy and the flats free from oxygen choking algae blooms and the ecosystem will recover. I believe nature will heal itself if we let it return to the most natural and healthy state possible. For a more detailed analysis of the water related issues, read “The Angling Report: Bonefish Decline in the Florida Keys” by Bill Horn. It is a very well written article with a specific analysis of water quality issues.
My personal experience makes clear that Florida Bay is sick. In part, the source of its illness is the impure water which reaches Florida Bay from the Everglades. The quality of this water is markedly affected by the fertilizers and runoff caused by the substantial sugar plantations of Florida. These plantations receive substantial governmental subsidies at a time when our government should be balancing its budget.
In a recent editorial, Froma Harrop warns,
“Sugar program a sour deal for US taxpayers”
She begins the editorial as follows: “Ever notice how some government programs draw the ire of almost everyone? Conservatives, liberals, environmentalists, libertarians, business, labor, consumers and grouchy taxpayers are all opposed. Yet these programs go on as though directed by an unstoppable particle beam from a neighboring galaxy. The public rarely sees who in Washington keeps the outrage in motion, and that’s how “they” get away with it.”
The sugar–support program is one such curiosity. She offered the opinion that the reason the sugar industry is supported even though Americans pay about three times the world price of sugar, because of a farm program designed to enrich US sugar growers and processors – in actuality, a handful of families. Among other things, it limits imports of cheaper sugar from Caribbean countries. It provides taxpayer backed loans: if prices slip, the borrowers repay their loans with sugar, which taxpayers must sell at a loss or store at their own expense.
Several years ago, Lauri and I took a helicopter ride while in Kauai, Hawaii and the guide noted the growing coffee fields below us. He noted that coffee has replaced sugar cane as “We cannot compete with off shore sugar.”
In summary, the support policy provides a government guaranteed income to cane sugar producers in Florida and sugar beet growers in Minnesota and Michigan. The manipulated price of sugar amounts to a tax estimated at $3 billion a year.
The domestic sugar industry argues that 142,000 jobs will be lost if the sugar program ended. But the Commerce Department reported in 2006 that inflated sugar prices kill three manufacturing jobs for every sugar growing and processing job saved. For example, the Atkinson Candy Company of Lufkin, Texas recently sent most of its peppermint candy production to Guatemala. “It’s a damn shame.” Company President Eric Atkinson told The Wall Street Journal. He had to move 60 jobs to Central America that in theory could have stayed in Texas.
The key for me of is that Florida giant sugar plantations – propped up by taxpayers and consumers paying higher than necessary prices – dump fertilizer runoff into the Everglades. Water that filters into the Everglades from agricultural concerns ultimately flows into Florida Bay. Florida Bay is one of the most dynamic, beautiful and wonderful estuaries on the planet. I have been fishing in Florida Bay when a glance down through the surface of the water to a lush green turtle grass lined flat would reveal a galaxy of sparkling reflections as the sun shone on small bait fish perfectly camouflaged in their sandy sanctuary. Or more simply put, the bait fish reflected sunlight like my three-year-old granddaughter Izzy’s new shoes which sparkle every time she takes a step.
Years ago, I flew from Miami to Marathon on a puddle jumper in order to join my fishing buddies for a week in the Florida Keys. The route taken by the 12 seat plane was over Florida Bay. What could have been a stunning spectacular sunlit view was ruined by the sight of the green murky soup of an algae bloom which stretched as far as the eye could see, hundreds of thousands of acres.
Ms. Harrop concludes her editorial by examining the cause of the continuing success of Big Sugar to gain congressional support dollars. She writes that it should not surprise anyone that the American Sugar Alliance greatly outspent confectioners to win the affections of the elected representatives.
As I see it, Republicans are not solely to blame. Democrats are not solely to blame. Followers of partisan politics should be intrigued to know that so-called liberals came together with so-called conservatives to join their votes for the continuing support of big sugar. On the Democratic side, Florida representatives Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Alcee Hastings both voted for the program. On the Republican side, House Speaker John Boehner and Rep. Frank Lucas, of Oklahoma and chair of the House Agricultural Committee, also voted in favor. As he backed the government shutdown, Lucas called for a budget “that reduces spending and eliminates waste and abuse in government programs.” Apparently, big sugar subsidies are not waste to Rep. Lucas.
I cite this issue not only to point out the devastating effect of fertilizer runoff from Big Sugar into the Everglades and then on to Florida Bay, but also to point out the simple truth Ms. Harrop describes at the end of her editorial: “How the politicians get away with this is simple: the voters are not paying any attention. Only when they do will this absurdity stop.”
So for me, the question remains. Am I paying attention? Are my friends paying attention? Are my fellow anglers paying attention? I know the answer. Sometimes yes and sometimes no. When the issue affects us personally, then we pay part attention.
The dangers to the Florida Keys bonefish are clear. If the quality of the water does not support the abundant life of an ecosystem, there will be no dinner on the Thanksgiving table. And when that happens, no one comes home to eat.