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Phosphate processing plants in the greater Tampa Bay region have caused some of Florida's worst environmental disasters. Accidents like the spill at the former Piney Point plant fill the history books in Florida.

Fishing And Aquaculture Affected By Piney Point Spill

Nikki Fried inspects clam beds
Steve Newborn
WUSF Public Media
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried inspects baby clam beds at Terra Ceia in Manatee County.

Business owners in Manatee County took their concerns to Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried.

Many fishermen, and clam and oyster farmers, continue to get hammered by red tide in and around Tampa Bay. On Wednesday, business owners in Manatee County took their concerns to the state's Agriculture Commissioner.

Livelihoods dependent on aquaculture have been devastated since red tide was reported in the waters of Tampa Bay in recent weeks.

A group gathered at the home of Curtis Hemmel in Terra Ceia to say the condition has been aggravated by several hundred millions of gallons of nutrient-rich water that poured from the shuttered Piney Point phosphate plant in March.

Hemmel ownsBay Shellfish Company, Florida's largest clam hatchery. He started the hatchery 25 years ago, after the net fishing ban was enacted in 1996.

"There are other factors that could cause that, so, do we think that was the cause, based on the timing?" he asked. "Absolutely. But it's a difficult thing to pinpoint, right?"

Hemmel and others asked Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried to include clam and oyster seeding in Tampa Bay as "mitigation" for the spill, meaning they would get financial help for their losses. That's not now required of the plant's operator.

Scientists can't definitively tie the current red tide outbreak to the Piney Point spill, though they haven’t ruled it out, either.

The aquaculture farmers told Fried that crop insurance does not cover damages from red tide. Fried then suggested using part of the $100 million allocated to the cleanup of Piney Point to help local farmers and fishermen.

“If we’ve got red tide that is shutting down their ability to do business," Fried told the people gathered in Hemmel's home, "we need to do more to not only clean up the water faster, but also compensate them for the losses that they’re experiencing.”

Nikki Fried seated at a conference table
Steve Newborn
WUSF Public Media
Nikki Fried addresses aquaculture farmers in Terra Ceia

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.