The Indian River Lagoon is now at a turning point. And fishermen should be at the forefront to do whatever it takes to bring the Lagoon back to health.
Restoring and expanding estuarine habitat increases fish populations, no question about it. A recent report by Restore America's Estuaries (RAE) and the American Sportfishing Association (ASA) detailed habitat restoration across the country. Entitled "More Habitat Means More Fish," the study makes a powerful case that investing in our nation's coastlines and estuaries leads to healthy habitat and strong fisheries, which has an obvious positive impact on fishing-related businesses.
Over 75 percent of our nation's commercial fish and 80 to 90 percent of the recreational fish catch depend on estuary habitat at some point in their lifecycle, says the report. Fish populations can respond quickly to habitat improvement and the impact will last over an extended period of time. Rebounds in fish populations can occur within months and persist for years.
The coming months could herald a slow recovery of this unique ecosystem or a continued decline.
The St. Johns River Water Management District, Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program, federal and state agencies, local governments and educational institutions are individually and collectively working to find answers to the cause of the superbloom and to identify what, if anything, can be done in the future to avoid a similar event.
Various partners are investigating the possible causes of the blooms and developing strategies to reduce their magnitude, duration and frequency. Chief among this work are the Indian River Lagoon 2011 Consortium and the District's Indian River Lagoon Protection Initiative. The Initiative is being developed to better understand the sources, cycling and transport of lagoon nutrients and the long-term impacts from the loss of the lagoon's seagrasses, as well as potential strategies aimed at restoring the lagoon to a seagrass-dominated ecosystem.
One key issue that must be dissected is the nasty fertilizer and other runoff (nutrient overload) entering into the Lagoon from local sources, similar to what Tampa Bay had to battle. With state scientists, biologists and specialists redoubling their efforts to determine strategies for improving the long-term health of this waterway, maybe this part of the state can see similar success to Tampa Bay waters.