In 2019 Annual Conference

By Sharon Kunkel (@sharonahk1), Central West Coast Chapter

Captain Daniel Andrews is Florida-born and raised. Over the course of his (still-young) lifetime, he has spent thousands of hours on the water; some of his fondest memories are of fishing with his father and uncle. He attended college at Florida Gulf Coast University but quit to begin working as a fishing guide, always on the hunt for treasured Florida fish such as tarpon, snook and redfish.

Beginning around 2012, Capt. Andrews and his peers started noticing that the fishing wasn’t as good as it used to be. The fish were moving from the area, and seagrass and oysters were dying off. Fishing captains were forced to find new areas to continue pursuing their livelihoods. While things eventually got somewhat better, they got worse again in 2016. Then came the algae blooms.

People suffered from nausea and respiratory distress, and there were indications that these types of outbreaks could cause devastating long-term health issues as well. Businesses and industries reliant on and in close proximity to the water suffered mightily.

Since they couldn’t fish, Capt. Andrews and a few other fishermen got together to talk about what was going on. They knew that discharges from Lake Okeechobee were responsible for the degraded water quality and decided they needed to get involved. They committed to doing some research and sharing the information with other fishing guides. They didn’t want to scare people away; rather, their goal was to provide science-based information and raise awareness of the water mismanagement issues in Florida so that they could try and preserve Florida’s waters and sea life for this and future generations.

About three-and-a-half years ago, Capt. Andrews and Capt. Chris Wittman formed Captains for Clean Water. The goal of the organization is to fix the problem of water mismanagement and protect Florida’s estuaries and the Everglades. As they say on the organization’s website, “We have a problem that is destroying our local natural resources and damaging our economy. We have a solution. What is holding us back?”

While they originally believed they could take up the fight on nights and weekends, they quickly realized that a problem of this magnitude would require their full-time attention. By 2018, with the red tide crisis and decimation of Florida’s wildlife, they kicked the battle into high gear.

Captains Andrews and Wittman decided to come at the issue from a grassroots level. The destruction of Florida’s water and wildlife is a humanitarian issue affected everyone in the state … and beyond. Tourism impacts the economy statewide. And they couldn’t bear the idea of future generations unable to enjoy the outdoors and waterways as they have done their whole lives.

Lessons / keys to success:

  1. Finding passionate advocates (including like-minded people and organizations, such as scientists, wildlife advocates, environmental groups, etc.) to be engaged, spread the word and take action. Advocates who have a personal stake are particularly effective because they believe in the cause and they know it is the right thing to do.

Coalition-building has been critical to the success of Captains for Clean Water. Scientists, environmental groups, outdoor brands, outdoor influencers … these people, organizations and brands have helped to exponentially amplify the Captains for Clean Water message. Having a coalition also shows elected officials that there is great public will for the cause, so they’d better listen!

It has also been crucial that this issue has successfully crossed partisan lines. Both Democrats and Republican have thrown their support behind the cause, which Capt. Andrews says is appropriate, since, “I’ve never caught a fish that was Democratic or Republican!”

Capt. Andrews noted that their opposition has to pay their advocates and that they’re doing it for the wrong reasons (money vs. being the right thing to do for the collective good). He says that grassroots efforts will expand quickly if you can find the most engaged and committed people, and that being on the right side of the issue is a huge advantage.

  1. Once you’ve identified your advocates, educate and evaluate. For Captains for Clean Water, they could pull from decades of educational information – scientific reports and news articles were readily available. Once they had compiled and condensed the information, they evaluated its impact on advocates. How did they respond? If the results weren’t good, they would go back and try to present it in a more compelling way.
  2. Put a particular focus on those who want to do more – those will be your most effective advocates. Whether grassroots, grasstops or even big brands (fishing show hosts, Yeti, Costa – Hardin Outdoors, etc.), find the folks who pack more power into your cause and expand your reach.

In the past few years, the captains have visited with those who have been affected by water mismanagement issues. They have encouraged advocates to make their voices heard and then gone to Tallahassee to try and encourage legislators to take action (successfully increasing funding for related environmental projects from $200 million in 2017 to $650 million in the most recent legislative session). They’ve expanded the cause to try and engage advocates nationally, and then traveled to Washington, D.C. to secure federal funding to protect Florida’s waterways and the Everglades.

Most effective tools, strategies and platforms for outreach:

  1. Film/videos has been the most effective communication tool for Captains for Clean Water. Capt. Wittman has a TV production background; film has been critical in showing what they are fighting to protect as well as showing widespread support for the cause. “By putting recognizable faces on film, it shows this is not just a ‘tree-hugger’ problem – it’s one that affects everyone!”
  2. Facebook and Instagram have been the organization’s main social platforms. While they are vastly different audiences, requiring very different messaging, both have been instrumental in spreading the word.
  3. Earned media has been huge for Captains for Clean Water. Not just local outlets; Capt. Andrews noted that outdoor media (such as Field & Stream and Garden & Gun) have been truly valuable for attacking the issue from a highly-informed and detailed viewpoint.
  4. In their communications, the Captains for Clean Water has been diligent about stating the problem, expressing that they are hopeful the problem can be solved, and then offering a clear call to action for those who wish to offer their support. Capt. Andrews showed a video that helped them to get 30,000 to sign a “Now or Never” petition to save the Everglades.
  5. Realistic, actionable measures: Everglades restoration has its roots in a bipartisan action plan formulated of 68 projects – none of which have been completed as of yet – in 2000. The Captains for Clean Water decided to find just a few projects where they could maximize the bang for the buck and achieve success relatively quickly. In this way, they will show that it can be accomplished – we just have to find the will to make it happen.

“Every day, we’re all writing the story that we will be remembered for,” said Capt. Andrews. “Fifty years from now, we’ll be asking ourselves if we did everything we could do … Are we going to leave this mess for our children or are we going to be the ones to save the Everglades? This is a fight we cannot lose!”

FPRA overview of session and speaker for reference:

Captains for Clean Water is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that advocates for south Florida’s water conditions. The organization began as a group of fishing guides from Fort Myers that “had enough” of Florida’s poor water management practices. Through advancing education, awareness and advocacy, learn how Captains for Clean Water has worked at the grassroots level to ensure that policymakers implement scientifically supported solutions to restore and protect marine ecosystems and Florida’s way of life for future generations.

Captain Daniel Andrews, executive director of Captains for Clean Water, is a full-time inshore fishing guide, born and raised in Southwest Florida. Daniel fishes out of a flats boat for tarpon, snook and redfish from Sanibel Island to Boca Grande. He has spent thousands of hours fishing and hunting across South Florida, the Everglades and in the Florida Keys. His passion for the outdoors is the driving force that keeps him working to protect the Everglades and surrounding estuaries that shape his way of life. Daniel founded Captains for Clean Water to bring people together and spread awareness on an issue that he says has impacted South Florida his entire life.

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2019 Dillin Fleischman and Member of the Year Award recipients, Space Coast ChapterKate MacMillan headshot