Saving Cockroach Bay
Ever since we stopped pouring raw sewage into Tampa Bay, the seagrass has been gradually recovering. But that rosy bay-wide picture (reported in the Tribune) misses the cancerous devastation spreading through the Cockroach Bay Aquatic Preserve. At Thursday’s meeting of the Agency on Bay Management (ABM), scientists displayed ghastly photos documenting the extensive damage done by motorboats ripping up the preserve’s seagrass with their propellers. Thousands of “prop scars”—some coalescing into large bare areas—are a serious problem.
If the damage continues, whole seagrass meadows will be wiped out, impacting Tampa Bay’s marine life. Cockroach Bay’s seagrass beds provide critical habitat for fish, crustaceans & shellfish. They stabilize bay bottom, clarify the water, and provide important manatee feeding grounds.
Dr. Nick Ehringer, who has studied Cockroach Bay’s seagrass for decades, told the ABM that the crisis is worse now than it was in the 1990’s when it got so bad we closed off certain areas to motor boats for a few years, allowing the grasses to recover. Although some boaters oppose any regulations, two fishing guides at this ABM meeting heartily agreed that tough measures are again called for to save the resource.
One proposal is to make a “pole & troll zone” in the area between the boat ramp and the Little Manatee River, called “Little Cockroach Bay.” Anglers could still fish there if they turn their combustion motor off and use a trolling motor or push pole instead. Commercial crabber Gus Muench said Little Cockroach is only part of the area that needs protecting. He’d like to see the rest of the preserve made into a pole & troll zone, since it is all suffering severe scarring. Gus has put his money where his mouth is, and pulled his crab traps out of Cockroach Bay after 30 years of fishing there.
Columnist Frank Sargeant notes even fishermen opposed to the regulations admit there are benefits to no-motor zones which become prime fishing areas as “snook, reds and trout stack up in areas where they’re not constantly being buzzed by high-speed boats.”
Contrary to an inflammatory e-mail circulating among local fishermen, no one is proposing we close off Cockroach Bay to all boaters. We simply have to find a way to enjoy the Aquatic Preserve without destroying it.
What do you think? The EPC is hosting a public meeting to listen to suggestions before making a recommendation: Thursday, May 31, 6:00 p.m., South Shore Regional Library, 15816 Beth Shields Way, in Ruskin.
EPC’s Draft Seagrass Management Action Plan outlines proposals to protect and restore seagrass throughout Tampa Bay, with LOTS of information.
This topic is dear to my heart. I attended the ABM meeting, and I’ll attend the EPC meeting because I live on the preserve and my family & I are frequently out on its waters, enjoying Cockroach Bay.