July 28, 2023
The waters around the southern tip of Florida have been experiencing unprecedented heat levels, hitting triple digits for two consecutive days. Meteorologists have expressed concerns that this might be the hottest seawater ever measured, although questions about the accuracy of the readings remain.
National Weather Service meteorologist George Rizzuto reported that the buoy at Manatee Bay recorded a scorching temperature of 101.1 degrees Fahrenheit on Monday evening, following a reading of 100.2 F the night before. Rizzuto cautiously stated, "That is a potential record."
“This is the first time in recorded history that it’s been this hot in the Florida Keys,” Dr. Ross Boucek of the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust said. “So we can’t look back into the past to figure out exactly what is going to happen.”
If verified, Monday's temperature reading would surpass the prior record of 99.7 degrees Fahrenheit, observed off the coast of Kuwait three summers ago.
The consequences of such extreme heat are already evident in Florida's marine ecosystem and could have significant implications for Florida's tarpon, bonefish, permit, and snook.
Higher temperatures may cause changes in these species’ forage bases and feeding patterns, potentially leading to reduced or altered feeding activity. Prolonged exposure to hot waters can cause additional stress on these fish, potentially leading to lower survival rates and new movement patterns. Bonefish and permit may seek cooler waters or deeper areas to escape the heat, making them more challenging to locate for anglers.
Boucek explained that events like that can also exploit smaller issues, turning them into larger ones that otherwise could have gone relatively unnoticed.
Scientists have also reported coral bleaching and the death of some corals, even in the typically resilient reefs of the Florida Keys.
“The big concern is what it’s going to do to our habitat,” Boucek said. “We’re already seeing basically complete loss of our coral reefs. Our fish spawn on the coral reefs, they use the shallow-water coral reefs quite a bit for refuge and habitat. We’re seeing mass sponge die-offs–spongy habitats are really important for permit. The big unknown, apart from what we’re already seeing dead and dying, is what’s going to happen to our seagrass.
“We’re already seeing a change in the distribution of our permit fishery,” Boucek added.
The BTT is encouraging people to handle fish very carefully or consider not fishing at all until conditions improve.
Alaska Sues EPA Over Pebble Mine Veto, Seeks Supreme Court Intervention
The state of Alaska has taken a decisive legal step by filing a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over its decision to issue 404(c) protections for Bristol Bay in the Pebble Mine project. The state is now urging the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case and address what it considers an infringement on its sovereignty.
In January, the EPA exercised its authority under the Clean Water Act to issue the rare veto, effectively putting an end to the Pebble mine—a contentious copper and gold venture located in southwest Alaska. The agency's determination extends to similar future mines within a vast 309-square-mile region in Bristol Bay. The move sparked heated controversy and criticism from the project's proponents, including the officials in Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy's administration and the Pebble Limited Partnership, the developer behind the mine, who labeled it as an illegal overreach by the federal government.
The Bristol Bay Defense Fund (BBDF) called the move “a radical ‘hail Mary’ legal maneuver” that “ignores long-established procedural rules regarding challenges of agency actions.”
“The lawsuit is legally and factually unjustified–and is little more than a publicity stunt filed on behalf of an unscrupulous mining company, Pebble Limited Partnership, that has repeatedly misrepresented its record and misled regulators, its investors, Congress, and the general public,” the BBDF said in a statement.
Alaska's Attorney General Treg Taylor submitted the state’s 91-page brief on Wednesday, which argued that the EPA's actions amounted to a de facto national park designation and an infringement on Alaska's rights to regulate its own lands and waters.
"The EPA's order strikes at the heart of Alaska's sovereignty, depriving the State of its power to regulate its lands and waters," the brief contend.
Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act basically gives EPA administrators veto power on projects where it is determined that “discharge of (dredged or fill material into the navigable waters at specified disposal sites) will have an unacceptable adverse effect on municipal water supplies, shellfish beds and fishery areas (including spawning and breeding areas), wildlife, or recreational areas.” The prior 13 implementations of Section 404(c) have proven durable and are all still in place.
“Alaskans and people across the country overwhelmingly support EPA’s action to protect Bristol Bay, and do not support the Pebble Mine,” the BBDF statement continued. “We will continue to defend Bristol Bay against the threat of the Pebble Mine and the state’s legal antics as long as necessary to ensure that the region, Tribes, salmon, and clean water resources are protected forever.”
Lower Deschutes River to Remain Open for Steelhead Until at Least Mid-September
The Lower Deschutes River will remain open for steelhead fishing until at least September 14, thanks to fish counts meeting a crucial milestone in its fish management framework.
Between July 1 and July 25, 2023, a total of 10,809 unmarked summer steelhead successfully passed through Bonneville Dam, which surpassed the minimum requirement of 9,900 steelhead needed in July to keep the steelhead season open. Had the count fallen below this threshold, steelhead fishing on the Deschutes River would have been suspended starting August 15.
The next determinant to gauge the fishery's status will be the total unmarked steelhead passage between July 1 and August 31. The threshold for this period is set at 23,100. If the count exceeds this number, the fishery will remain open after September 15.
On the flip side, angling on Oregon’s North Umpqua drainage will be closed from July 31 through November 30 due to low fish counts. ODFW projects the run will not meet the 1,200 returning wild-fish threshold, as fewer than half of the average have been counted.
Despite the good news on the Deschutes, anglers are urged to follow best practices when steelhead fishing, especially in the case of wild steelhead. Fish during cooler parts of the day, handle fish carefully, fish barbless, and keep fish wet.
Photo courtesy of Bob Wick, Bureau of Land Management Oregon and Washington
Removal of Klamath’s Copco II Dam Marks Milestone in Restoration
The Copco II dam, one of four dams in the Lower Klamath Hydroelectric Project, was largely dismantled in late June, thanks to decades of advocacy from Tribes, Trout Unlimited (TU), conservation organizations, and myriad fishing groups.
The 35-foot-tall dam had significant impacts on the Klamath River ecosystem. Together with the other three dams, it completely obstructed fish passage and effectively severed the river, causing devastation to the iconic salmon and steelhead runs of the Klamath.
Thanks to the collective efforts of dedicated advocates, the first section of concrete broke away from the main wall of Copco II on June 22, rapidly reducing the dam to rubble. The removal of the dam has unleashed a flood of pent-up emotions among those who have championed the river renewal.
“While this is just the first step, it certainly is an exciting moment,” said Mark Bransom, CEO of the Klamath River Renewal Corporation in an article on Daily Kos. “Crews are making fast progress in these early stages of the project, and we are on track with our removal timeline.”
The Lower Klamath Project, which includes all four dams, is on track to be entirely dismantled by the end of 2024, which will enable salmon and steelhead to regain access to almost 400 miles of historic spawning and rearing grounds in the watershed. It is anticipated that the first returning waves of salmon could be witnessed in the late summer of 2025.
Josh Bergan is Fly Fisherman’s digital editor.