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Fishermen protest FWC's aquatic plant spraying on Lake Okeechobee

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Posted at 5:53 AM, Nov 15, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-15 17:21:10-05

OKEECHOBEE, Fla. — On Friday morning, a group of fishermen protested the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s chemical spraying of aquatic plants at Lake Okeechobee. They say it is harmful to the environment and the fish.

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FWC says floating plants have a negative impact on the native habitat and navigation, and that is why they need to take care of them.

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However, the process of spraying herbicides to get rid of them has become controversial.

In fact, FWC temporarily stopped the aquatic spraying earlier this year to get feedback from the community, then resumed a few months later while making some adjustments.

Jason Blair organized the protest after he noticed a lot of dead vegetation a week after the aquatic spraying was done in the area.

He said he sees a lot of negative impacts from it.

“A lot of the algae blooms are happening, and that water is being fed out from Lake Okeechobee to the coast, has a lot to do with the spraying and the lack of filtration on the lake. So, when they spray we used to have eel grass and a lot of natural filters, and none of that stuff is growing back,” said Blair.

He says there are other ways to control the invasive species.

“We would like to see them harvest it by mechanical harvester without spraying. You harvest it, you bring it to the bank, you let it dry, it shrinks tremendously and the guys come get it and turn it in to something farmers can use for their farms,” said Blair.

He says he went to FWC’s listening sessions on the topic but doesn’t feel much has changed.

Ramon Iglesias says, “Yeah, it’s cheaper and it’s easier but it’s definitely not healthier, so we have to find funding for FWC to do mechanical harvesting which is the right way to do it.”

A spokesperson for FWC issued the following statement:

Invasive aquatic plants are a statewide issue in Florida. The FWC works with a variety of partners and stakeholders to address this important issue.

Regarding impacts to wildlife, native aquatic plants are important for water quality and healthy fish and wildlife populations. Invasive floating plants, water hyacinths and water lettuce, destroy and kill native plant habitats decreasing biodiversity in Florida’s freshwater systems. Successful plant management benefits fish and wildlife populations by maintaining diverse plant communities that provide essential habitat and food for both adult and juvenile fish and wildlife.

Herbicides registered for use in aquatic environments undergo years of rigorous evaluation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In addition, before an herbicide may be used in Florida waters, it must be registered with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. During this process, state health and environmental agencies comment on new herbicides. Once registered for use in Florida waters, the FWC contracts with universities and other research institutions to find the most environmentally compatible and cost-effective strategies to apply herbicides to control invasive plants while conserving or enhancing native plants and animals.

In response to public feedback, the FWC has increased harvesting this year and is looking to increase these efforts further. However, multiple approaches are needed to manage aquatic plants on the lake, including herbicide, mechanical, biological and physical methods. The FWC considers many factors when selecting the appropriate management tool.Selective herbicides are generally the least damaging tool for native plants. In many cases, there is no way to remove the invasive nonnative plants by using mechanical harvesting unless you plow up all the plants including the native ones. Also, sometimes it is not possible to use mechanical harvesters because water levels may be too low to accommodate them.

Please see our website for additional information on how the FWC has adjusted our Aquatic Plant Management Program to respond to public feedback.

Click here for the FWC's spraying schedule.