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Rainy days mean fish hit Tampa Bay area streets

Spotting a catfish by your curb is not all that unusual when it rains hard around Florida and elsewhere.
A small fish was spotted swimming across flooded River Drive in Lithia on Saturday as the nonstop rains caused the nearby Alafia River to rise by about 2 feet over flood stage. [ANASTASIA DAWSON   |   Times] [ANASTASIA DAWSON  |  Anastasia Dawson]
A small fish was spotted swimming across flooded River Drive in Lithia on Saturday as the nonstop rains caused the nearby Alafia River to rise by about 2 feet over flood stage. [ANASTASIA DAWSON | Times] [ANASTASIA DAWSON | Anastasia Dawson]
Published Aug. 21, 2019

During the heavy rains that inundated the Tampa Bay area recently, several residents reported spotting what they thought was a remarkable sight: Fish swimming in the flooded streets.

For instance, last Saturday brought reports that the Alafia River had swollen beyond its banks and sent catfish scooting down the road past the stilt homes scattered around Lithia Springs Conservation Park.

Blame an overwhelmed stormwater system. When floods hit, the culverts are supposed to keep water flowing beneath the road, not on it. But the culverts couldn’t handle the heavy flow, and thus water from area creeks and rivers jumped over the asphalt — and brought with it whatever fish got caught in the current.

This is not the first time this fishy phenomenon has happened here. In 2015, a Tampa TV station doing a story on flooding caught footage at the corner of Hillsborough Avenue and Sawyer Road of a Tampa man at a curb trying to catch a fish with his bare hands. He finally pulled it up on the sidewalk.

It’s not an only-in-Florida event, either. Last year a man in Harlingen, Texas, shot video of fish swimming in the street in front of his house. Three years ago, the Weather Channel broadcast footage of salmon swimming across a road in Washington state.

The most famous street-swimming fish, though, are found in Florida — specifically in Miami Beach, where sunny-day floods tied to rising seas have from time to time led to a piscatorial pavement parade.

“You go down to Miami and when it’s flooding at high tide on a sunny day, fish are swimming through the middle of the streets," then-President Barack Obama said during a 2015 news conference. (Politifact declared this “half true” because he meant Miami Beach, not Miami.)

In 2016, the flooding got so bad a small octopus washed up in a Miami Beach parking garage. The following year, a video clip that went viral showed a man with a fishing rod reeling in a good-size catch from a flooded street in South Beach.

“Caught that dinner, baby!” he shouts in the video.

However, a story in the Miami New Times questioned whether the video was real, given the angler worked for a local bait shop. The paper speculated that this could be a ploy to sell worms.

As for the fish themselves, their fantastic voyage should not cause them any harm (as long as no one catches and cooks them), according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. That’s assuming that when the floodwaters dry up, they don’t get trapped in an area no longer connected to running water. If that’s the case, they could die from a lack of oxygen.


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Charlie Shoemaker for The Pew Charitable Trusts [Charlie Shoemaker for The Pew Charitable Trusts]
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