Manatee County is blaming commercial fishermen for the thousands of dead fish that washed ashore on Anna Maria Island Christmas morning. But a local fisherman says he is not convinced that is what happened.
Mullet roe season is in full swing. At Cortez Bait and Seafood, fishermen bring in about 45,000 pounds of mullet, mostly females but they gladly take males as well.
However, this time of year females are worth more money thanks to their fish eggs or Red Roe.
“The male mullet right now is ten cents a pound versus a dollar a pound," said Cortez Bait & Seafood owner John Banyas.
The low price of male mullet may help explain the stinky situation that on Anna Maria Island Christmas morning.
Thousands of male mullet washed up along the beach, their bodies left decaying as visitors walked in between their dead carcasses.
“We had a west wind and 9 miles of Anna Maria beaches were littered with literally thousands of tons of dead fish primarily dead male mullet," said Charlie Hunsicker, the Director Of Parks and Natural Resources Department.
Hunsicker said because they were only mullet and primarily males he is ruling out red tide as the culprit.
Instead, Hunsicker believes that fishermen in a rush to get the roe let the males die then dumped them overboard.
Banyas is a fisherman as well as the owner of Cortez Bait & Seafood and he isn't convinced fishermen are to blame.
“I don’t want to rule out “Red Tide,” he said. “You know it’s a very good possibility, and yes the fishermen are throwing some back. Usually all our guys want to throw them back alive. They don’t want to throw any dead fish back."
Banyas said the males still have value and his company is gladly taking them.
"As you see here, we are packing females and males today,” he said.
As for finding out what really did happen last week, there may never be a definitive answer. Manatee County's has launched its own investigation.
However, it may be too late. FWC agents say they made it to the beach too late to test for Red Tide or confirm if it was in fact a fish kill.
Manatee County says the boats may need more workers and would like to see an extra person on the fishing boats whose job it is to sort the fish so that they are not being baked in the sun.
If you spot someone dumping fish into the water you should call the FWC’s wildlife alert line at 888-404-3922.