Red tide, pandemic deliver one-two punch to fishing businesses

For many Bay Area businesses, COVID-19 was the first of a one-two punch. Now, it’s the red tide crisis, which is leaving anglers without work and fishing stores without customers. 

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says red tide is present in the bay and the gulf and as the algae blooms persist, local businesses continue to suffer.

At Southeastern Fishing Tackle on North Florida Avenue, slow days have been the unfortunate reality for the last few months.

"When I get a new invoice, my heart races like crazy because I'm like, ‘Oh lord, where am I going to get the money to pay the bills?" said owner Zahira Lehri.

He and Adi Chowdury say their sales are down 90% compared to this time last year.

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"We were doing fine. Our struggle only was inventory because of the pandemic but this year we have the inventory and no client base. It's affected us significantly to a point where we have to cut hours on our employees. Adi and I are working seven days a week, we are the cashiers, we are the custodians, our manager is wearing 10 hats a day," Lehri said.

It's a domino effect for everyone in the fishing industry. Commercial anglers can't find work. Fishing guides aren't doing charters.

"The restaurant community, people that live around the water, it's affecting quality of life and all the businesses around the water and unless you own a boat and you can go offshore 10 to 15 miles out there, you're not going to get clean water," Chowdury said, adding that most of their clientele are in-shore anglers, so business is at a standstill.

MORE: West wind, changing tide washes dead fish on shore in Manatee, Sarasota Counties

"We just don't have the customers right now, you can't blame them, I mean, there's dead fish everywhere you look, so it's a tough situation, it's overall a bad situation right now like being hit by two perfect storms and we're in the middle of it," he said.

Those perfect storms being red tide and the pandemic.

For now, all they can do is hope conditions improve soon so anglers can get back in the water.

Experts say these conditions could last for several more months because of the rainy season and the water temperature staying warm.