FWC suspends aquatic spraying; sportsmen cautiously happy

A virtual celebration broke out last week in the internet forums of many different groups concerned about the chemical spraying of aquatic plants on lakes, rivers and canals. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission temporarily halted aquatic spraying on Jan. 28.

There was an especially joyous reaction in the lake region, with sportsmen and clean water advocates expressing relief at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s announcement Jan. 23. But there’s also a little skepticism mixed in, still.

Ramon Iglesias, co-founder of Anglers for Lake O and general manager at Roland and Mary Ann Martin’s Marina & Resort in Clewiston, was among the first to break the news on Facebook that beginning Monday, spraying for aquatic vegetation was halted temporarily by order of the FWC’s Division of Habitat and Species Conservation.

During that pause, announced the letter from divisional Director Kipp Frohlich, “staff will work to set up meetings where we can collect public comment regarding aquatic plant management.”

Debbie Culp of the Florida Clean Water Network — a watchdog association of more than 300 groups and thousands of people who support and call for vigorous enforcement of the federal Clean Water Act — called it “great news, one big step in the right direction, and a long time coming.”

She posted thanks on the group’s Facebook page to several people in particular for their advocacy, “carrying the torch in enlightening FWC and increasing public awareness”: Pastor Scott Wilson of Williston; James R. Abernethy of North Palm Beach, a professional photographer and ocean/clean water activist who calls himself a “marine life saver”; Jim Watt of Jupiter, a self-described “wildlife guy” who argues that the state’s herbicide spraying program is violating Florida’s own environmental laws; Mr. Iglesias and Ms. Martin of Clewiston; and the 172,000 people who signed Mr. Abernethy’s petition on change.org titled “Stop the State-Sanctioned Poisoning of Our Lakes and Rivers.”

Mr. Wilson posted: “Although I do appreciate the many thank-yous from around the state … great people have been in this battle for decades.” He also shared reservations, saying that even mechanical harvesters had been ordered off all lakes. “Why would mechanical harvesting be stopped? These are the guys actually doing things right.”

He further claimed that “it has been suggested that this might be a public appeasement while more funding is secured.”

Mr. Watt, as well, cautioned those celebrating the FWC move: “Might be just a ruse to quiet us down. Don’t trust ’em. They (spraying contractors) are not walking away from cash cow this easy.”

Mr. Iglesias, though, does not believe funding has dried up or that spraying is being halted because of fishing tournaments and publicity, or that it’s just a ruse.

“The reason I don’t think that’s the case is that I think we’ve done our due diligence and made our case. They (the FWC) realize that there are problems. … For them to say, ‘We’re not going to spray the entire state,’ tells me that they’re listening to our message,” realizing they have work to do.

Mr. Iglesias said he expected “they’re going to sit down and … meet with us, and they’re going to reevaluate their program and possibly figure out there are ways for them to do it better.”

He explained: “We can’t stop spraying 100 percent, but if they can develop a program where they incorporate mechanical harvesting quite a bit more — yes, it’s going to be more expense, but if we’re all fighting for clean water, that’s one place to start. Number two: spraying smart, meaning we don’t spray during the spawn times, we don’t spray around beds, and we do better selective target spraying.

“Understand, this is a process to try to make the program better, not to make it go away,” Mr. Iglesias finished.

FWC has not yet released the meeting schedule. Comments can also be sent to Invasiveplants@MyFWC.com.

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