Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

With no help in sight, seniors clean up 8 tons of dead fish


The dead fish rose from the deep and blew in on the wind, eventually clumping together in the canal nearest to the shuffleboard courts. Killed by this month's record-setting cold streak, tilapia were drifting by the thousands into the waterways running through the Holiday Shores Park retirement community on Lake Seminole, the decomposing bodies coming to rest just outside many residents' front doors. The smell was taking over the well-groomed streets, permeating even the clubhouse.

"It was bad. It was really bad," said Carolyn Sperry, whose flower boxes and small dock were surrounded by putrefying fish for several days.

When the bloated carcasses became too much for residents to stand late last week, they sought help from the city and county.

But Largo officials said they couldn't help. Holiday Shores' address was just outside city limits. Plus, Largo had enough dead fish on its hands — 38 tons hauled from its lakes over the past two weeks.

The county also declined to step in, saying its resources already were spread thin.

Pat Knight, chairwoman of Holiday Shores' community board, said officials advised her to let nature take its course. The dead fish eventually would sink or be eaten by birds, alligators or other scavengers.

"We couldn't let our homeowners live with the stench," said Knight, 69.

They called an emergency meeting.

Rather than spend thousands of dollars to hire professionals, they went with sweat and stink.

On Monday, 60 senior citizens armed themselves with nets, pitchforks and rakes.

After two days awash in scales and guts, the residents were battle-hardened fish fighters, hauling nearly 8 tons of dead fish out of their park's canals.

"That's a pile of fish," said resident Dave Sperry.

The numbers of dead fish showing up across the state have jolted even those who study fish kills.

"We're not shocked that the fish died, but the numbers — this devastation statewide — can be shocking even to us," said Gary Morse, spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

So many have died, the state has closed or shortened fishing seasons for certain species like snook, and the county is waiving fees to dispose of dead fish at county landfills until Feb. 1.

The struggle of the Holiday Shores community to deal with dead animals on such a scale was not easy — or pretty.

"I almost blew my lunch this morning," Knight said Tuesday, slimy rake in hand.

Lots of trial and error was involved.

"It was a little MacGyver, a little Gilligan's Island," Knight said.

The community's first push came in the form of heavy machinery: three boats roped together, their engines directed at full churn toward the floating fish. But their fleet wasn't big enough — instead of pushing the blanket of corpses out into the lake, the fish simply pooled in an eddy.

"We needed more boats," said resident Tom Moffatt.

The fish, mostly introduced tilapia, continued to float inland with the wind. Residents tried to string noodle-like pool toys across the canal entrance, but that proved fruitless as well.

Residents eventually used a volleyball net to corral several thousand fish into a dead-end in one of the canals.

Then the real work began.

They rustled up dish and garden gloves, and began scooping the fish into trash barrels and kitty litter buckets.

They hefted load after load onto golf carts, to be moved to the street and thrown into a tall steel trailer they rented for $50 a day.

In all, three loads of fish were taken to the county landfill by resident Bob Dunn, who owned the best truck in the park, a Chevy Silverado 1500. At the landfill, Dunn raked the fish into piles and flung them out of the bed whichever way possible, leaving the fishy aftermath to the bulldozers.

"This is what old people do. This is senior power," Knight said after the work was finished, and many showers taken. "These are seniors who took it upon themselves to dip out these damned fish on their own."

Dominick Tao can be reached at (727) 580-2951 or

With no help in sight, seniors clean up 8 tons of dead fish 01/26/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 26, 2010 11:25pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. E Fletcher Avenue may be closed weeks for cavern repairs


    Commuters near the University of South Florida will want to find alternate routes with work continuing to repair a "cavern" under E Fletcher Avenue near the Hillsborough River.

  2. Pasco eyes favoring local vendors for county business

    Local Government

    DADE CITY — Pasco commissioners want to give a leg up to local businesses bidding on county government contracts.

    "It's an economic driver. We owe it to the folks to keep money here, keep jobs here,'' said Pasco Commissioner Mike Wells Jr. about a proposed local preference purchasing ordinance.
  3. Insurance regulators fret over a spike in auto glass claims


    TALLAHASSEE — Three months ago, state regulators weren't tracking a surge in broken auto glass claims, particularly in Tampa Bay.

    The issue has their attention now.

    The Office of Insurance Regulation is taking on assignment of benefits abuse in the 2018 legislative session. Pictured is Florida Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier. | [Times file photo]
  4. Rick Baker lowers expectations before St. Pete mayoral primary


    ST. PETERSBURG — Rick Baker officially lowered expectations in the mayoral race on Tuesday, saying his “battle for the future of the city” against Mayor Rick Kriseman might last until November.

    Baker has consistently led in local polls and fundraising totals this summer. But at a fundraiders …

    Rick Baker addresses supporters on Beach Drive Tuesday
  5. Music producer Kevin Erondu, 31, who grew up in Dade City, rose to prominence after creating the beat to "Swag Surfin'," a 2009 club hit that still inspires viral videos today. [Courtesy of Kevin Erondu]