Welcome to your monthly State of Florida Bay! Each month, Florida Bay Forever is partnering with the Florida Keys Fishing Guides Association to provide an update on what is going on with Florida Bay fisheries, habitat and restoration.

Salinity & Hydration. It’s official, Florida Bay is near average. That is not a bad thing! The summer rains have arrived and bay-wide salinities have been inching down by the day. As we approach peak wet season, we expect to see decreasing salinities and increasing resiliency on Florida Bay. We are relieved that the bay has avoided drought that is known to caused devastating seagrass die-offs, fish kills and harmful algal blooms.

Lake Operations. There have been major developments in the summer saga of the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM). Florida Bay Forever partnered with non-governmental organizations across the greater Everglades to support an optimized plan CC to bring the maximum amount of cleansed lake water south to Florida Bay. At the July meeting, the South Florida Water Management District Governing Board passed a policy position that reflected their support for an improved CC that does more to reduce harmful discharges to the estuaries and send the water south. Most exciting of all? The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released their preliminary preferred alternative: plan CC! The corps will spend the next few months fine-tuning the plan based off the feedback of stakeholders from across South Florida. You can still submit comments to send more water south to: LakeOComments@usace.army.mil.

Fishing Report. Florida Keys fishing guides are out on Florida Bay every single day and are experts in the ever-evolving health of the bay. This month, we spoke with Cap. Nate Weinbaum, aka Keys Xplorer, to hear what he has been seeing with his clients out on Florida Bay:

“It has been a good month, summer and year for Florida Bay, particularly for the snook fishery. I have a great vantage point from the tower on my boat and have been seeing (and catching) snook in the upper 30-40 inch range. The size and abundance of the fish reminds me of when I first started fishing Florida Bay more than 20 years ago.

”The redfish are prevalent on the flats and frequently found grazing like cattle across the bay.

”Florida Bay seagrass habitat and fishery appear to be recovering nicely, but there are still issues with evolving predator behavior and water quality.

”There is a lot of pelagic sargassum floating into the bay, which makes fishing more difficult and has turned the water a brownish, tannic color in the far reaches of Everglades National Park. Summer water temperatures have been very high and I have seen green water with clients on Nine-Mile Bank.

”Even more troubling is the mortality rate of the fish we are catching on the bay. Lemon and bull sharks have learned to follow boats onto the flats and hide in the ditches to stalk and strike unsuspecting prey. I often use my live well as a release well to give targeted species a chance to survive another catch in the ever-changing landscape of the bay.

”Even with new challenges, the fishery is vibrant and I am grateful to witness the changes to the estuary as we transition into the wet season.”

You can explore a Florida Bay in recovery with Capt. Nate. Call 305-522-4681 or visit keysxplorer.com.

Visit floridabayforever.org to learn more about how you can make a difference for Florida Bay. Stay tuned next month for the next State of the Bay report to see how the bay changes entering peak wet season.