Manatee death toll grows, Asians found in Sarasota
2003 wasn't a very good year for Florida's manatees.
Scientists with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Florida Marine Research Institute in St. Petersburg said 380 manatees died last year, up from 305 in 2002. That makes last year the second-greatest manatee mortality period since researchers started keeping records in 1976.
No. 1 year for deaths of sea cows was 1996, when 415 died.
Researchers have determined that 98 manatee deaths in 2003 were caused by exposure to red tide, which persisted in Lee, Collier and Charlotte counties for much of the summer. Another 73 deaths were attributed to sea cow-human "interaction" in the form of watercraft-related injuries. That number is down from an all-time high in 2002 of 95 deaths from boat collisions. In 2001, 81 animals died from injuries sustained in boat crashes.
Locally, Manatee County had seven manatee deaths last year. Three were from boat crashes, two from stress related to cold water, and two were listed as "undetermined." The total number of manatees that have died in Manatee County since 1976 is 89, by the way.
So you work the spin on the story:
Manatee deaths up, bad.
Manatee deaths caused by boat collisions down, good.
But whatever way you look at it, with only about 3,000 manatees roaming Florida's waters, losing 380 of them in one year is definitely not good.
No fish farm anytime soon
There won't be an offshore fish farm in the Gulf of Mexico anytime soon.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries Service had rejected a request by a group of Pinellas County businessmen to establish an aquaculture site about 33 miles offshore of Anna Maria Island, citing environmental concerns stemming from an anticipated overabundance of fish food at the proposed facility.
The feds also didn't like the proposal that Florida Offshore Aquaculture submitted, finding parts of it exactly the same as another proposal submitted by the University of Miami for a similar fish farm off Puerto Rico.
In fact, the feds decided the whole issue of aquaculture sites in open water was so contentious that they placed a moratorium on issuance of all permits for two years while they study the matter.
The fish farm would have been the first deepwater facility of its kind in the United States. The fish would be kept in pens, fed, and eventually sold to seafood companies. Species were to includ cobia, amberjack, pompano and others.
As Florida Offshore Aquaculture's founder Jody Symons told the St. Petersburg Times, "We're toast."
Asian green mussels are here
I have apparently acquired a mussel hound.
I got a Miniature Doberman Pinscher at Christmas. MinPins aren't really dobies, but Cayo looks exactly like a doberman except that his ears seem to comprise about 80 percent of his little 10-pound body.
We were at a dog-friendly waterfront watering hole in Sarasota last week, and Cayo was sniffing around the beach while I talked to a few of the gang. He came charging up and started gnawing on what he'd found at the water's edge.
His crunching drew our attention, and when I was eventually able to wrestle what he had out of his mouth, we all agreed it was an Asian green mussel, the first any of us had spotted.
The mussels have plagued Tampa Bay for about six years. Experts figure they were blown out of the ballast of a ship in the port there and, without any natural enemies, have flourished and spread.
In fact, the mussels have been blamed for the delays and problems at Tampa Bay Water's new desalination water-treatment plant near Apollo Beach by continually blocking the water inflow pipes.
We all looked at the pretty green mussel for a while, then I tossed it back into the water. Cayo took off the other way on the beach, and promptly returned with another one in a waterborne, wacky canine form of "fetch."
So, if two mussels in about two minutes retrieved from one little dog is any clue, we've definitely got a mussel infestation here.
By the way, they taste great with a little garlic, butter and lime.
Bad Shirish! Bad Jeb!
My buddy Shirish Date made the news the other week in a way that reporters don't really like - he was the news.
Shirish is the Tallahassee bureau chief for the Palm Beach Post. He is also a mystery writer under the name S.V. Date, and has written a slew of books about the antics of Florida politics. His novel "Smokeout," about Florida governor "Strollin' Bolling Waites" and his fight against the tobacco industry, is a true gem.
Shirish has the dubious distinction of being the only reporter to have been banned from the floor of the Florida House of Representatives by the speaker after some article he wrote.
Gov. Jeb Bush has also written in an e-mail that Shirish is "a reporter by day and a mystery novelist at night," which I guess Jeb thought makes Shirish sound like he does something nasty in the dark.
Anyway, Shirish and Jeb went at it recently when the Guv refused to invite the Palm Beach Post reporters for his traditional end-of-the-year interviews.
Why? The Guv's press office said Shirish said a bad word to them a few months ago, something that was deemed to be "unprofessional."
"If certain members of the press corps treat these members unprofessionally, I have to take the responsibility to make sure that behavior is not condoned," said Jill Bratina, the Guv's communications director.
Although this is probably just a wild supposition on my part, I would think that a series of articles that have appeared in the Palm Beach Post critical to the school voucher program - a pet program of Jeb's - may have also played a role in the interview embargo.
Shirish wrote in mid-November that Bratina and staff had discussed pretty much flat-out fibs on some of the voucher money allocations, but eventually reluctantly decided to tell the truth.
I gave Shirish a call to commiserate with him over not being invited to the party. He didn't seem all that upset when we talked, and I got a good laugh out of him when I pointed out that The Islander hadn't been invited to the Guv's interviews either.
His new book is due out in March, by the way, and will be a non-fiction story about Sen. Bob Graham. He also agreed to join us for one of our author luncheons when he goes on tour to tout the book, probably in May.
Although Asian green mussels are pretty tasty, be careful about eating any found in our waters. Shellfish bans are enacted by state officials regularly due to water quality issues, and there are only a few approved shellfish harvesting areas in our part of the Gulf or bays, so anything you find out there and decide to eat could come back to haunt you the next day.
But you can buy Asian greens at most seafood purveyors and, as I said, they taste great.