Tuesday, September 1, 2009
With Lee County's Blind Pass open, fish pour in
Anglers deem dredging project a huge success
Having fished Blind Pass about 20 times since it was reopened July 31, Bob Murk has learned one thing:
The system works (in other words: The fish are back).
"I've caught just about everything here - ladyfish, jacks, mackerel, snook," the Fort Myers retiree said. "I mostly fish for snook. You want to know the biggest one I've caught? Forty-one inches. That was a nice fish."
Passes between barrier islands are dynamic systems, opening and closing as tides, currents and storms dictate.
Blind Pass has closed and opened many times over the years; when it's closed, water from Pine Island Sound can't flush into the Gulf of Mexico, so it becomes murky, stagnant and excessively salty, and seagrass, fish and invertebrate populations collapse.
After the pass closed in the summer of 1999, a $246,307 project in March 2001 opened it by dredging 17,500 cubic yards of sand. But the pass closed a month later.To keep it open, a larger, more elaborate and more expensive plan was devised.
On Dec. 3, 2008, Energy Resources Inc. of Chesterfield, Mo., started a $3.2-million project to dredge 148,038 cubic yards of sand - the project was financed by the state, Lee County and the Captiva Erosion Prevention District.
Rather than simply digging a ditch to connect the bay to the Gulf, Energy Resources dredged 800 feet into the Gulf, 4,000 feet on the inside of the bridge and 500 feet into Roosevelt Channel.
Dredging was complete on the afternoon of July 31, and Energy Resources was scheduled to officially open the pass Aug. 5 by removing a sheet-pile wall that separated the bay from the Gulf.
But during the night of July 31, high waves tore a 30-foot-wide hole in the berm on the south end of the wall, and the Gulf and bay have been connected ever since.
"It's looking very good," Lee County coastal engineer Robert Neal said. "After two weeks being open, it was getting wider both on the north and south sides. We were afraid it would fill in, but with the current at 3.5 feet per second on an outgoing tide, that's not happening."
One thing that is happening is improved water quality.
"We went up in a helicopter, and it looks much better," said Loren Coen, director of the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation Marine Laboratory. "We're actually seeing a change in color in Roosevelt Channel and Dinkins Bayou. It's certainly improving the color and probably the salinity of those areas."
With the pass open, the fish poured in.
But how do fish find a newly opened pass?
"In general, the rate at which fish find new things depends on how much they move around," said Aaron Adams, head of Mote Marine Laboratory's Charlotte Harbor Field Station. "Mackerel, which move around a lot, will find things quickly. Grouper, which don't move as much, will take longer."
During the summer, snook spawn near shore, in or near passes.
Mote tagging studies show that an individual snook tends to stay along a single stretch of beach during spawning season.
"My guess is that opening the pass attracted snook already associated with Sanibel and Captiva," Adams said. "So the pass is bringing in and concentrating fish that would have been scattered along the coastline."
Opening the pass is also attracting fishermen.
"I'd been watching news about it on the Internet with great interest," said Kevin Griffin of Hampshire, England. "I was here three years ago when the pass was closed and wanted to fish here when it was open. The fishing is pretty good, I have to say. I've caught snook, a blue runner, pompano and, always, catfish."