In this series, Flylords had the chance to partner with BUFF to highlight some outstanding members of the fly-angling community who are taking action to drive change in their communities and the world. Through the lens of struggle, perseverance, and a passion for bettering the world; we aim to share the stories of these anglers and their corresponding organizations to inspire future generations.
In our final installment of ADC Season 1, we take a dive into the murky waters of the fight between Everglades Restoration groups and the special interest groups that threaten Florida’s most valuable resource – its water. The story of Captains for Clean Water, Chris Wittman, and Daniel Andrews is one born of unfortunate circumstances and the belief that 2 individuals can in fact make a difference. Both being guides turned conservationists, these two decided the only way to save their local fishery was to take matters into their own hands, and amass a large enough support group that the lawmakers responsible for protecting their fragile Florida waters would have no choice but to open their eyes to the, now, undeniable environmental disaster that was unfolding in their very own backyard. Join us as we explore how Chris and Daniel strive to drive change.
FL: What is Captains for Clean Water?
CFCW: Captains For Clean Water is a grassroots 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that fights to restore and protect our water resources.
In 2016, we started as a couple of fishing guides that had “had enough” of Florida’s poor water management practices devastating the estuaries we rely on. We were convinced that if everyone knew about the issues, they would’ve been fixed long ago. The solution is known but has been delayed for decades due to lack of political will and public awareness. So, we set out to change that.
We work to advance science-based solutions through efforts focused on awareness and education, empowering people like you to speak up for our water quality and hold elected officials accountable.
FL: What were some of the first instances where the two of you really realized that there was an issue that needed to be addressed.
Witt: Throughout our careers as guides we were impacted by our water quality and water mismanagement issues firsthand. As time went on, we saw the loss of more and more habitat (oysters & seagrass). The areas we fished as kids were being lost at an alarming rate.
FL: What made you realize that you couldn’t just continue working as guides day by day – when was it obvious change needed to be made or the future of your fishery was doomed?
Witt: We started to see the water issues impacting our businesses and way of life. Scientists had identified solutions, but progress wasn’t happening fast enough. We realized we couldn’t keep hoping our water issues would get fixed, we were going to have to get involved if we wanted to see the fisheries that had given us so much be here for future generations.
FL: When starting up the organization; what were some of the greatest challenges
Witt: We knew we had to get people involved and vocal to pressure policymakers to implement long-term science-based solutions, but we were fishing guides. We didn’t know anything about starting an organization. We also realized very quickly that if we were going to be successful it was going to require all of our time and effort. The reality of that was that if we were going to be effective we would have to quit our dream jobs and dedicate our lives to this fight. That was not an easy decision, but one that had to be made.
FL: Can you recall the first big success the organization saw? What was this?
Witt: The first big success we had was the passing of Senate Bill 10. SB10 was a bill that advanced a cornerstone project of Everglades restoration, the EAA Reservoir. Initially, SB10 was said to be dead on arrival due to the influence of the sugar industry’s lobby and the need to obtain land for the reservoir. We launched massive public awareness campaigns and rallied engagement from citizens across the state. Ultimately, the bill overcame numerous hurdles and passed. This was the first win we had after starting CFCW and was proof that if we could educate people, we could get them involved, and if we could get people involved, we could create the political will to drive change.
FL: When starting out, was there a concrete plan, or has it “strategically snowballed” into what it is today?
Witt: When we started, we were kind of shooting from the hip driven by anger and passion. Today the same passion still drives us, but our efforts are much more strategic and calculated.
FL: What has been one of the greatest obstacles CFCW has faced thus far?
Witt: One of the greatest obstacles we have faced is the influence of the industrial sugar industry on legislators. As one of the largest campaign finance contributors in the state their influence to slow the progress of Everglades restoration and detour meaningful legislation to hold polluters accountable is significant.
FL: How do you feel the community has responded to the Captains initiative. Has that response shifted over the years?
Witt: In the beginning, the community was skeptical that they could have an impact on fixing such massive problems and was concerned that bringing attention to the water issues would hurt their businesses. Today the community is more vocal and involved than ever before. They realize that if we don’t bring attention to the water issues, these problems won’t get fixed and their businesses will suffer.
FL: What is one of the largest hurdles the Everglades Restoration Project is facing right now?
Witt: The biggest hurdles we are currently facing is getting the legislature to implement significant legislation to hold polluters accountable and working to speed up the painstakingly slow processes of government and bureaucratic agencies. We need to get more people involved to create greater pressure and drive political will.
FL: What do you miss the most about guiding?
Witt: Time… hahaha, but seriously the amount of freedom, and the camaraderie on the water with fellow guides and clients, and the office, eighteen feet of fiberglass is the best office on the planet!
FL: To someone who may want to pursue a similar initiative, how can people start getting involved in new conservation projects?
Witt: Start by looking for a group or organization that is working on issues important to you and lend your voice, get involved, never underestimate the power of a single voice. (Something I learned / that I wish I had known) I learned that we can’t assume that someone else will fix the problems or fight for us. If you love something, you have to fight for it. I just wish we had gotten involved sooner. If we had maybe some of the problems would have been fixed already.
FL: What kind of consequences could the Fly-fishing community, and greater Florida area face if things don’t change?
Witt: We could lose one of the most iconic fisheries on the planet – the Everglades.
FL: How can people get involved with CFCW?
Witt: The most important way people can get involved is by getting educated on the issues, staying informed, helping spread awareness, and taking action when your voice is needed! That’s how we drive change. We have many ways people can plug in and join the fight! Sign up for our newsletter to stay updated on progress and when action opportunities arise, become a member of CFCW, follow us on social media, and share our content to help spread awareness.