From the Crow's Nest
by Capt. Charlie Phillips
The crow's nest is the highest point on a vessel and used as a lookout point. As the president of Florida Guides Association (FGA) I plan to be on the lookout for hazards as well as opportunities that affect our organization. This column will be used to communicate my observations to you. Please feel free to share our newsletter with any of your friends that may also believe in our mission to protect Florida's fishery resource to the benefit of recreational angling.
Water Release Issues
Each month as I ponder a topic to write on, I try to look at big issues that are facing our membership or the charter boat industry. This month was a no brainer, as I am sure everyone is well aware of the water release issues that are currently ongoing down in the SW and SE portions of our state. These releases are a real challenge for our captains as well as the ecosystems, but they are not new, nor are they going away anytime soon. I know this is a very complicated topic, that is drawing a considerable amount of passion, but what I want to touch on is the other components of this issue that I have not heard much about, but are worth considering.
My life immediately after high school until my dive into the charter business revolved around explosives, from clearing mines to bringing down bridges with an occasional beaver dam removal in-between, blasting was my life, and from that world, I developed some habits I still hold today. One of the greater ones that help me daily is the ability and personal requirement I have ingrained in me, to see the entire issue, challenge or job in its entirety, or in the big picture so to speak. In the explosive world, this trait is critical to retaining the connection of all ones digits to ones appendages, and while a little different in my current role, I still find it very important in manning the helm of the FGA.
The FGA is a statewide professional association made up of both Saltwater and Freshwater fishing guides. With that in mind, has anyone considered the impact to the FGA guide members around Lake Okeechobee area when the waters are called toxic, polluted and worse? Have you thought of how that image is impacting our peers of the industry and the FGA who are trying to run charters each day to catch bass, specks and catfish? While of course we all want clean and healthy water for our fisheries to thrive in, isn’t the hit to tourism also a part of the issue with the water releases, and are some of the statements being made not having the same effect on the inland communities?
These guys and gals are just like us, professional captains, doing the exact same job we are. Now they are put in the position of defending to potential customer’s comments by other guides, maybe of the same association, that their waters are polluted. But wouldn’t most of us agree that Lake Okeechobee is today a world class destination to catch a trophy largemouth bass, hunt for waterfowl, gig frogs or even try your hand at harvesting an alligator? I know if I had the opportunity to jump on a boat leaving Clewiston this morning to do some speck fishing, or out of Lakeport to go catch a bass, there would be no hesitation. The hard working guides of Lake Okeechobee are not being given a fair shake in this argument, nor a voice and for me, that’s very troubling.
Have you taken a moment and considered that when we use the big catch phrases for Facebook pages, and news articles on the evils of the Ag industry we are demonizing an entire group of good people who are hardworking folks, just trying to earn an honest living. Sometimes these same people make up a portion of our customer base as charter captains. Now I know as you read that, you are saying we don’t mean that man driving a tractor plowing right now, or the folks working in the sugar mill making sure their shift is done and their family is fed. No we mean the executives and big shots in these places making the decisions that are so much the issue. Well I would ask, has anyone expressed that to that guy in the tractor, or in the mill? If it’s been done, I haven’t seen it.
That man or woman working in a field is not our enemy and we should be very careful of making this a coastal versus inland battle, not only as we try to find an answer to this issue, but also as small business owners and professional charter captains who need these people on our boat decks to pay our bills. Imagine the impact if the Ag industry of Florida grew tired of the constant abuse and boycotted as a whole all charter boats of the state, or the FGA. I am sure the boats in Georgia, or Louisiana would love to have their business. Think that would have an impact on your business? I know it sure would to mine.
If there’s a problem with the way management of a company or organization is operating, then call those specific people or groups out, don’t lump in the folks who have no control on any of those decisions and are just trying to pay their mortgage the same as you and I are. And don’t forget the Ag industry around Lake O is fuel suppliers, truck and equipment dealers, service industry folks, Ag supply houses as well as the sugar companies themselves. That’s a big group of people to point the finger at with general statements and titles, and you don’t have to dig very far to find out that the inland communities, and residents that have nothing to do with these decisions are not happy with the unfair demonizing that’s is currently going on.
I also would ask our FGA members to consider as well that while this issue is ongoing, and no one cares more then you, who live and die as a result of water quality and the guest you have aboard that pay your bills, you also still have to make sure your bills are paid, and you run the trips you can if you are going to stay in business. I think most of you agree that this issue will not go away overnight, the water must be released to protect the good folks who call the areas south Lake O home and as it stands today, there is not a good alternative. The pollutants in the water are not only on the Ag industry, but on every one of us that has a septic tank not working properly, over fertilizes our lawns to make them green and pretty or buys a home in areas that have to be drained to ensure flooding doesn’t occur. There are a lot of fingers to point in this argument and I am afraid this conversation will be ongoing for all of this year and well into the future. But with that said, as a charter captain and must make a living short term so that you are around long term to see real changes and improvements to the water issue.
Is it not in your best interest to make sure to highlight that you’re still catching fish, your still running trips and you’re still open for business. For some of you that have other sources of income as well as what you can make on the boat, it takes a bit of the burden off, but for folks like me that need my charter income to survive, I can assure you that no matter the issue I face, I will adapt as best I can to continue my way of life, while at the same time working to fix the problems that are causing the hardship. My only other option is closing my business, so to me, there is no other alternative. You may have to change tactics or change areas short term, and I know that’s rough but in the big picture you are trying to survive in your livelihood. It is my opinion that fishing as much as you can, posting pictures of happy guest does not take away from the issue we are facing. To me it’s just self-preservation and doing what must be done as a small business owner to weather a storm, while doing what you can to find a solution.
I take my job of manning the helm of the FGA very seriously. And I want to remind everyone reading this, we are a statewide association so we have a considerable amount of variables to consider as we encounter contentious issues. On each concern that arises, we must consider how current members are affected locally, regionally, statewide, how this may affect our members in the future and how our decisions and actions could influence those repercussions and affects. We will always act as professionals as we represent you, the members of the Florida Guides Association, as that’s what you have entrusted us to do with your membership here. But sometimes that will come as action with restraint, and action not as visible as activist and conservation only groups. We take very seriously the role of correcting issues like this; the big difference between the FGA and many recreational angler groups is we have to come at this from a business angle as well as a conservation angle. Both equally important and each depend on the other. But if a recreational angler group offends a portion of the population with an action, well, they all just yell at each other, but if the Florida Guides Association does the same, it’s much easier to target you, the professional charter captain and make you suffer for that decision right or wrong.
I can tell you in closing that we are working on this issue, I hear your voice on this, I see your frustration and we have a plan to come up with some real answers that you will see in the next few months as we sit down with our elected officials and agency heads to find solutions. But it’s not going to be overnight, and you’re probably not going to see a FGA picket line on this issue. That doesn’t mean we are not making sure you are represented, on the contrary, it’s the FGA seeing the entire picture of the issue and representing professionals as professionals... Thanks for all your support.
Capt. Charlie Phillips