'Deformed' fish with tumors in local waters cause concern among anglers

'Deformed' fish with tumors in local waters cause concern among anglers. (WPEC)

Jason Blair, a fisherman who organized a recent protest at Lake Okeechobee, believes the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s aquatic spraying program is destroying the lake's vegetation and causing fish to suffer from tumors.

This comes after anglers from across the region have documented fish after fish with what they say are tumors, large lesions, and deformities that are stomach-churning.

"Week after week, day after day, we're pulling out damage fish with tumors and burn marks on their sides and it's just a terrible thing," said Blair. "Tumors on a fish is definitely unusual and something I have not seen before until the last couple of months in these heavily sprayed areas."

But FWC officials say herbicide spraying is needed to control the spread of non-native invasive plants that block navigation channels and crowd out native plants.

"They're out here every day spraying, and spraying, and spraying," said Blair. "All that stuff [herbicide] is coating the bottom of the lake with muck and mud."

FWC officials say those chemicals are needed to control the spread of non-native invasive plants which pose a navigational problem.

Herbicides registered for use in aquatic environments undergo years of rigorous evaluation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In addition, before an herbicide may be used in Florida waters, it must be registered with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. During this process, state health and environmental agencies comment on new herbicides. In order for an aquatic herbicide to pass the registration process, it must not pose a reasonable threat to human health and safety.

Meanwhile, on the Treasure Coast, Representative Brian Mast said many times before, if we wouldn't put it in the bathtub with our children or grandchildren, then it doesn't belong in our waterways. That standard extends to spraying as well.