The Nature of Florida with Oscar Corral

Fishing Guide Captain Benny Blanco Fights Tarpon Out on the Water and Environmental Destruction When on Land

March 24, 2022 Oscar Corral
Fishing Guide Captain Benny Blanco Fights Tarpon Out on the Water and Environmental Destruction When on Land
The Nature of Florida with Oscar Corral
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The Nature of Florida with Oscar Corral
Fishing Guide Captain Benny Blanco Fights Tarpon Out on the Water and Environmental Destruction When on Land
Mar 24, 2022
Oscar Corral

Captain Benny Blanco grew up in the land-locked Miami suburb of Kendall. But that didn't stop him from biking to Miami's coast often when he was a boy. Today, he is a fishing captain with his own television show, and one of the leaders of clean water advocacy organization Captains for Clean Water. Does he reveal the best fishing spots in South Florida? Listen in and find out.

Show Notes Transcript

Captain Benny Blanco grew up in the land-locked Miami suburb of Kendall. But that didn't stop him from biking to Miami's coast often when he was a boy. Today, he is a fishing captain with his own television show, and one of the leaders of clean water advocacy organization Captains for Clean Water. Does he reveal the best fishing spots in South Florida? Listen in and find out.

00:00:02:10 - 00:00:16:20
Unknown
Welcome to the nature of Florida, the Sunshine State's only podcast dedicated to its wild and natural places and the fight to preserve them. I'm your host, Oscar Corral, a two time Emmy Award winning filmmaker and journalist. I've dedicated much of my career to making films about environmental issues.

00:00:16:21 - 00:00:31:12
Unknown
Tune in each week to hear from a broad range of voices from scientists to surfers, activists to mermaids who are working on the front lines to save what's left of Florida's natural beauty and its wildlife. Hello, everyone, and welcome to the Nature of Florida podcast.

00:00:32:00 - 00:00:53:04
Unknown
With me here today is Captain Benny Blanco, who's a South Florida fishing guide and is a very passionate activist for Florida waters from the Everglades to Florida Bay to Biscayne Bay. And he's a member of Captains for Clean Water, which is an organization of fishing captains and fishermen and boaters who are advocates for fresh water in Florida

00:00:54:02 - 00:01:07:18
Unknown
. Bennie also promotes the protection of Florida waters through Guiding Flow, the TV show he hosts on the streaming channel Waypoint TV, which has reached more than 2.4 million viewers in Florida. Welcome, Bennie. Thank you for having me, Oscar.

00:01:08:11 - 00:01:23:21
Unknown
So, before we got started, you told me you had just gotten off the water and you just jumped on this call. What was your day like today? It was a typical February day in the Everglades. A little chilly in the morning, but a good water temperature.

00:01:24:04 - 00:01:42:16
Unknown
And so we were chopping fish all morning from several fish. It was a great morning and then we got stuck in the afternoon. So, you know, the Glades is one of those places that if you understand how the fish move during the seasons, you can catch fish all year long.

00:01:43:12 - 00:01:57:03
Unknown
What did you use for bait for tarpon? Oh, it was all fly fishing. Fly fishing, you know. How deep was the water where you were fishing? We fished in two places. One was in a in a creek that was probably five or six feet deep.

00:01:57:20 - 00:02:14:06
Unknown
And and then on a beach, a pretty well known beach. And it was probably three, three foot deep. Yeah. And so you have been fishing your whole life. And you you do know the way that waters move and currents move and the weather affects fishing patterns.

00:02:15:23 - 00:02:32:08
Unknown
Tell me about those early experiences that you had as a fisherman. How did you get turned on to fishing? Well, I mean, like every almost every young kid in south Florida, the water calls you, you drive over it, you drive by it.

00:02:32:18 - 00:02:46:23
Unknown
You know, you you're walking to the Publix and there's fish on the side of the canal. And I was you know, I think it probably skipped a couple of generations because my great grandfather was a was a fisherman, a commercial fisherman.

00:02:46:23 - 00:03:02:00
Unknown
But for whatever reason, the first fish I saw, I mean, I was in love, so, oh, I started in the canals and the lakes and and then as fate would have it, I was introduced to the Everglades super early.

00:03:02:00 - 00:03:12:06
Unknown
And, and that's all I ever wanted to do. I wanted to be there all the time. And and and I mean, literally, I spent the rest of my life trying to be there as often as I could be.

00:03:13:12 - 00:03:31:09
Unknown
Legend has it that he used to ride a bike to a nearby canal when you were a kid to go fishing. Is that true? Yeah, I've. I've visited probably every canal in South Florida via bike. But the the hot story from back then was I used to ride my bike to mass in Hammock and which was a

00:03:31:10 - 00:03:51:02
Unknown
considerable ride. At that age, a young age, probably completely unsafe. My parents really didn't know that they thought I was going to the canal, and that was how I saw fly or sight fishing. I would wait out and there was bonefish, permit and tarpon right there.

00:03:51:12 - 00:04:08:24
Unknown
And then I caught all of the above. I had no idea concept of how I was targeting these world class kingfish from a bike walking on the on the, on the flats. But it didn't occur to me until later that how how unbelievable that was.

00:04:09:10 - 00:04:23:06
Unknown
And that was probably my first taste of understanding that there's degradation that's happening regularly, because when I was young, I would walk there and catch all those species. No problem. Every day there was no reason or a question whether I was gonna get a shot or not.

00:04:23:06 - 00:04:37:08
Unknown
It was there. And then when I finally realized that I was catching permit bonefish and tarpon from the from the from the the walking, and I was getting on a boat trying to find them. And I realized that that all changed in just that short period time.

00:04:37:23 - 00:04:57:13
Unknown
And that was my first taste of understanding come to that realization that things were changing literally as I was growing. Well, when when you were out there as a kid catching those fish, what did it feel like to you, to, you know, to go out there and be on your own on the flats and and looking for

00:04:57:13 - 00:05:14:00
Unknown
those fish and landing them? And, you know, just what was that like? I mean, I was completely blown away. You know, I didn't know why it was so attractive, why I was so, you know, I gravitated towards it.

00:05:14:01 - 00:05:30:18
Unknown
I don't know why, but the seeing the fish, the stalking, the hunting component, the the fact that I could do my own and I didn't have and didn't need anybody else. And it was something it was this magical thing that I could go do by myself.

00:05:31:03 - 00:05:43:07
Unknown
And it was my it was my secret because I told everybody. But it was my secret because, you know, I did it on my own. And and there was nobody else out. I wasn't competing with anybody else. I was I was by myself.

00:05:44:05 - 00:06:00:17
Unknown
So you went you would wait out in Matheson Hammock in the area where people kitesurfing all right. No, I it was mainly the flats that are south of Batson. Okay. So is it that little circular driveway south of Matheson that was kind of like closed off now?

00:06:01:18 - 00:06:18:20
Unknown
Yeah, back when I was a kid, there was nothing there. It was there was just. It was. You can walk from the street through the mangroves, basically, to to the to the flat. And the flat was just now that I know what I know, it literally is the same flat that goes the entirety all the way down

00:06:18:20 - 00:06:34:20
Unknown
to the southern end of the bay. And the fish that were there were just passing through. You know, when I was a kid, I thought these fish lived here and I was catching the fish that lived there. But now that I know what I know, those fish were just passing through and there was so little human impact

00:06:34:20 - 00:06:49:16
Unknown
on those fish back then and so little. Pollution back then, that it was a healthy path for them to travel. And now it's not so much. There are some fish that go through there now and you can target them, but nothing like when I was a child.

00:06:50:01 - 00:07:02:01
Unknown
And just just for our listeners who are not watching the video to let you know, Bennie is not an old man. When he says back then, he's not talking 60 years ago, he's talking, what, 20 years ago, 25 years ago?

00:07:02:10 - 00:07:24:14
Unknown
I mean, you're not talking 45. And so that was probably almost 35 years ago, 35 years ago. So we're talking not that long ago that you can, you know, wait out there in Biscayne Bay and to some of the flats and see these migratory fish and these game fish, bonefish permit, etc., right on the flats and catch

00:07:24:14 - 00:07:41:10
Unknown
them. And, and so that must have been something that really solidified your your. Desire to be out in the water on a regular basis. And how did you tell me about how you shaped your life as a as a as a fisherman?

00:07:41:11 - 00:07:53:14
Unknown
I mean, it's something that many I'm sure many, many people dream of men and women, but few can actually do it and and make a living off it. Tell me about about, you know, how you structured your life to do this.

00:07:54:14 - 00:08:10:06
Unknown
Yeah. So, I mean, it's not a very complex story. I mean, the reality is I'm super passionate about fishing. And so I am not. I am so stubborn as hell, which is probably why I've become such a staunch advocate.

00:08:12:07 - 00:08:29:02
Unknown
I was told I couldn't be a guide, that there was no there was no real business and and livelihood and fishing. And I grew up in an inner city neighborhood, you know, inner city. Tell me about that. Where KENDALL South.

00:08:29:02 - 00:08:50:06
Unknown
Kendall And so what I mean by inner city is we were surrounded by trees and houses. There was no ocean there. And so there's no God community that lives there. Unlike some of my colleagues now who live and grew up in Island Roderick Lago or in Key Biscayne who grew up around guides, no, that's even a possibility

00:08:50:12 - 00:09:02:18
Unknown
. I had no idea. I just knew that I wanted to be on the water all the time. And if it meant that I could have a livelihood, fantastic. If not, I was going to find a livelihood, like maybe being near the water at least.

00:09:02:18 - 00:09:21:22
Unknown
And so I was just drawn to it. And so for me it was just about being stubborn enough to not listen to the nose and naive enough to think that I could make it happen. And and that's very much translated into my advocacy world, which is stubborn enough to think that I can make a difference and naive

00:09:21:22 - 00:09:34:09
Unknown
enough to think I can make a difference. So here I am. Tell me about that first charter you had, that first paying client. Was that when you told yourself, you know what, this might work? Well, tell me about that.

00:09:34:09 - 00:09:49:14
Unknown
You remember that first client, first person who paid you to take out take them off fish? The funny thing about being a guide, I think coming from where I came from, because I know I have a lot of friends who grew up in the Keys and, you know, being a guy was no big deal.

00:09:49:14 - 00:10:02:09
Unknown
And, you know, they knew being a guy was valuable. It was it was a life was a was a very much an alternative, a way to be a way to make a livelihood, a living. Where I was from, it was not.

00:10:02:09 - 00:10:20:05
Unknown
And so I think it took me years. After becoming a full time guide to realize that I was a god. I don't know if that makes sense, but, you know, you talk to you'll see some athletes talk about, you know, playing in the NBA and they're in the NBA for ten years and they finally, after ten years

00:10:20:05 - 00:10:32:20
Unknown
, think, holy crap, I'm an NBA player. That's their career. And I was the same way it took me, I don't know, ten, 15 years before I. I finally was able to say it out loud. I'm a that's my career.

00:10:32:20 - 00:10:50:14
Unknown
I'm a fishing guide because it felt like it was something that was unattainable. That was that I was just trying to fake it till I made it basically when I was young. And, and now, you know, it seems like I live in a planet now where fishing guide is is very much a reality.

00:10:51:00 - 00:11:07:04
Unknown
And, and when I tell people I'm a fishing guide, they absolutely accept it. And when I was younger, it didn't seem like a reality. And so I wish I could tell you exactly when that charter happened that I'm that I said, okay, I'm a guide, but I just know it was way later than you would ever expect

00:11:08:22 - 00:11:21:06
Unknown
. Tell me. So have you have you taken any any VIP's out fishing near me? Maybe a couple people you've taken out that you would never think are interested in fishing. Can you name them? That would relate to you.

00:11:21:21 - 00:11:43:12
Unknown
I mean, Jimmy Buffett. All right. So you've been out fishing the flats with Jimmy Buffett? I have. Josh Beckett, who was the pitcher. Mike Lowell, who is a local superstar. At the time, he was the MVP of the World Series.

00:11:46:20 - 00:12:11:12
Unknown
A very, very famous baseball manager who won the World Series last year and became a super fan of fishing and is a Hall of Fame baseball player and now a Hall of Fame manager. I've taken out lots of local celebrities.

00:12:13:23 - 00:12:28:02
Unknown
And, you know, that's that's I think that's the underlying theme for everything that we're trying to accomplish with captains and in our advocacy work is that fishing is not just for the guys who sit in overalls with the straw hats on the side of the canal.

00:12:28:19 - 00:12:45:15
Unknown
Fishing is, you know, it's an international love for outdoors and water. And it's something that's that's tied into our DNA from when we were cavemen. You know, it's a it's a it's hard to explain what the draw is, but it transcends.

00:12:46:16 - 00:13:03:15
Unknown
You know, class transcends, you know, your financial stability. It transcends everything. It's something that's innate in who we are. And when you're on the water, especially in the Everglades, you know, the rest of the world really doesn't do stops.

00:13:04:05 - 00:13:20:20
Unknown
And you're out in this place that that time I saw, you can go back and look at trees that have been there for 300 years and see rivers that are that were formed millions of years ago. And then all of a sudden, you know, that e-mail that you had to send this morning doesn't matter anymore.

00:13:21:07 - 00:13:40:05
Unknown
And, you know, the person that was angry with you or you have an issue with somebody, it doesn't matter anymore. And you're just out there in nature and it just it stops you for a second and puts you back in the understanding of how small you are on this planet and really makes you appreciate places like that

00:13:40:10 - 00:13:54:02
Unknown
. We need more places like that for us to center ourselves, define ourselves because we get stuck in society and we think that who we are is what we see around us. And it's not. And it's that's that's why these places are so special.

00:13:54:10 - 00:14:14:16
Unknown
Does it matter if you're a superstar? A Hall of Fame baseball coach. If you're a multibillionaire recording musician, you're on the water in the Everglades. You're just fishermen. And that's the cool thing about it. One of the reasons I started this podcast is to show the different ways that people connect with nature.

00:14:15:03 - 00:14:28:05
Unknown
And it's not you know, it's not only going out there and, you know, going hiking in the woods. It's it's surfing, it's fishing. It's it's, I don't know, going to the beach and walking just walking a trail in the Everglades.

00:14:28:05 - 00:14:50:00
Unknown
It's so many different ways to connect. And with you, it's a special way because fishing is one of those experiences that, as you said, transcends. Not only not only classes, but it transcends politics as well. I mean, I know here in South Florida, many of my friends and people I know are very whether they are liberal or

00:14:50:00 - 00:15:04:14
Unknown
conservative, Democrat or Republican, I know many who love surfing on both sides, fishing on both sides of the aisle. And and when you're out there on the water, I think it is things like politics tend to melt away.

00:15:05:02 - 00:15:22:19
Unknown
And you just out there to catch fish, to enjoy it, to appreciate it. And I'm transitioning now to your advocacy work. I want to know how you as a as a fishing guide, use that time with people to if not tell them what's wrong, then maybe show them what's wrong or show them what's happening.

00:15:24:04 - 00:15:36:13
Unknown
Yeah. So I do all of the above. I feel sorry for someone who gets on my skiff not wanting to know what's going on with the Everglades or with water because they get an earful all day long and they can't get back without me.

00:15:37:02 - 00:15:56:23
Unknown
So I. Captive audience if I've ever heard of one. Yeah, it is. It is the Everglades classroom, the back of my skiff, there is no doubt. And like you just said, it translates it transcends politics. And so it doesn't matter if you're starch Republican or starch Democrat or or any alien.

00:15:57:17 - 00:16:14:00
Unknown
When you get on my skiff, I'm showing you what the differences are. I'm showing you places that are special to me and you forget again. What that starts with you have is and you fall in love with the Everglades.

00:16:14:14 - 00:16:32:15
Unknown
And those things that I've explained to you matter and it becomes important to speak up. And I want to say there there probably have been several hundred advocates born on the back of my skiff. All right? Because you fall in love with it and you find out what's wrong with it, and you're like me.

00:16:32:15 - 00:16:46:14
Unknown
You just you have to speak up. When it comes to being out there and fishing and seeing things for yourself, you have an interesting perspective. You're out in the water almost on a daily basis in different parts of South Florida.

00:16:46:14 - 00:17:01:01
Unknown
So not just one body of water like Biscayne Bay. You go to Florida Bay, which is down all the way down south and the tip of the peninsula, you go into into into the Everglades itself. If I'm not mistaken, you've gone into Hell's Bay and you've gone into all these other backcountry places.

00:17:01:21 - 00:17:18:15
Unknown
You go to Biscayne Bay and the flats there. I mean, you go to you go down to the Keys and you've been doing this for four years. And so you have a great vantage point to see how these places have changed and how they have affected fishing, especially in those areas and fish.

00:17:19:23 - 00:17:44:22
Unknown
What can you tell me from, in your words, what has happened in south Florida waters for the last 30 years? That's a very loaded question. You know, as a fishing guide. You're relying on your instincts every day. And your instincts based on your instincts, are what you rely on to determine where the fish are.

00:17:45:10 - 00:18:02:06
Unknown
But you're watching the water every day. You're watching it go up. You're watching it go down. You're watching it clean up your watching it dirty. So everything that happens in the water on a day to day basis, on a weekly basis and month to month basis, you are super in tune with to the extent that it's almost

00:18:02:06 - 00:18:20:03
Unknown
scientific, you know, you've got a baseline that you established when you were younger and you've watched it through the years and. It's hard to quantify what's happened in Florida or in South Florida with water outside of. No blaming.

00:18:20:13 - 00:18:37:17
Unknown
This many people have moved down here. And the the pollution, that's very obvious. Everywhere you look, there's plastic pollution and sewage pollution and oil. And, you know, all the things that we use inland makes its way to the water.

00:18:38:04 - 00:18:49:04
Unknown
Now we are on a peninsula. So in order for it to not make its way in the water, we have to stop it. We have to do something actively out of our ordinary routine to stop it. And if we don't, it goes right to the water.

00:18:50:00 - 00:19:09:23
Unknown
Every bit of fertilizer that we put on our lawn in the summertime is rained on and mealy goes into the canals, which drains into our water. And that's our biggest issue in Biscayne Bay right now. We have a failing septic I'm sorry, a sewage infrastructure, even though we continue to build homes and condos, which is a start

00:19:10:07 - 00:19:25:09
Unknown
slap in the face for me. Every morning I drive in the Everglades National Park and outside of the Everglades National Park, there's 700 condos going in here, 400 going, and there are 200 going in here. And we we don't have the infrastructure to handle the homes we have now.

00:19:25:20 - 00:19:39:05
Unknown
So how are we going to handle another 1500? And these developers come in here that they buy this land, they have a rezoning, they spend the money to get it done, and they make millions of dollars at every subdivision, and then they leave.

00:19:40:01 - 00:19:58:19
Unknown
And then we're here to clean it up. And, you know, that's that's the problem in south Florida. The Glades is is a little different. That's a super complex issue. And while we were in Tallahassee last week, but in south Florida, when you're talking to the average person, what they see on Biscayne Bay and when they go over

00:19:58:19 - 00:20:17:15
Unknown
the bridges that's that's caused by pollution, there is there's no grass absolutely left in North Bay, where it used to be a world class farming fishery, a world class trout fishery, where you could go to any dock like that at night and see tarpon and snook and all these beautiful species of fish, and they don't exist there

00:20:17:15 - 00:20:32:12
Unknown
anymore. And and that's that's our fault. And when I say our fault, that's my fault. That's your fault, Oscar. That's everybody's fault lives here because we haven't identified this problem as a problem in the past and we haven't spoken up about it.

00:20:32:20 - 00:20:46:16
Unknown
And so, you know, that's why we're doing it now. Personal awareness is, I think, a key part of making change happen for issues like environmental issues in South Florida. But personal responsibility is something that people talk about a little less.

00:20:47:01 - 00:21:00:11
Unknown
And I think it's what you're touching upon right now, which is personal responsibility. Anybody who's out there who's been on your boat or who has been fishing, who is a person of means, probably has a beautiful green lawn in front of their house and they probably fertilize it.

00:21:01:07 - 00:21:24:06
Unknown
And that's something that is just not helping the situation. And other, you know, obviously, other larger operations are fertilizing as well. I think I think people. Want to help. And they want to know how they can help. And hearing this from from someone like you gives people an idea of what they can do to take personal responsibility

00:21:24:06 - 00:21:40:17
Unknown
. So if you have a plan out there and you've been fertilizing it, just stop fertilizing, you know, maybe watered a little bit or a little less. But don't fertilizer anymore. The lawn is going to be okay. And if it's not, then plant something else in its place, plant some escaping plant something that doesn't require fertilizer watering.

00:21:41:10 - 00:21:58:15
Unknown
Those are the steps that everybody can take right now to reduce the nutrient impact on Biscayne Bay. Is that is that correct? That's absolutely correct. And look, I'm a fishing guide. I didn't not I did not get an education in chemistry or fertilizers or in a softball.

00:21:58:18 - 00:22:13:09
Unknown
But in the last few years, because I've seen the degradation and I'm just tired of it. I'm done with seeing the places that we love die. I've educated myself and anybody can. And I can tell you that all of my clients treat their lawns that way.

00:22:13:22 - 00:22:34:11
Unknown
They stop fertilizing. I start fertilizing. I don't fertilize. I tell everyone that I know that's not a fertilize. And my lawn screen, my clients lawns are green. Right. It's literally it's a you know, you have to choose. If you're a software it in, if you're Floridian, you have to choose to accept that responsibility.

00:22:34:23 - 00:22:50:13
Unknown
If you live here in this state, not only are you connected to the health of the water, like in everything that you do, but you're responsible for everything that happens on that water. And so we have if you understand that those two statements, then we have the power to fix it.

00:22:51:00 - 00:23:08:01
Unknown
And then it comes down to just making that decision. Like, for example, kicking plastic, I mean, seems like a pretty, pretty silly thing, but most people still buy plastic bottles. My clients are not allowed on my skiff if they bring plastic bottles.

00:23:08:18 - 00:23:25:19
Unknown
I would I will literally put my boat back on the trailer and come back home and they probably won't get another date on the calendar. One of the we just finished a documentary called The Fellowship of the Springs, which won an Emmy, and it's been in film festivals around the world and it was on PBS.

00:23:26:13 - 00:23:37:07
Unknown
And one of the battles that we cover and that we highlight is the battle by activists in North Florida to stop Nestlé from bottling water in North Florida and putting it in bottles and sending it all over the country.

00:23:37:17 - 00:23:54:02
Unknown
And so I learned a little bit about water bottling and the impact it has on the environment. And and you're right to to ban that in your boat. I mean, it's your prerogative. And it's also letting people know that there that's another yet another thing that they can do to minimize their environmental impact by less plastic.

00:23:54:13 - 00:24:08:19
Unknown
And so and so water, you know, you could put a water in a thermostat. You could reuse 500 times. There's no need to get plastic bottles and bring them on a boat. That's just kind of a convenience or laziness that people have gotten used to.

00:24:08:19 - 00:24:21:00
Unknown
But there's really no reason not to do that. Penny, what what was the straw that broke the camel's back? I think I remember reading somewhere that you joined Captains for Clean Water in 2016. What happened back then that made you join that?

00:24:22:05 - 00:24:37:08
Unknown
So it actually happened in 2015. Honestly, it happened before then because I was watching the degradation happen and like I stated about this game and I was watching it happen, I was already becoming an advocate. I just didn't know.

00:24:37:20 - 00:25:07:15
Unknown
The straw that made me crazy about it is in 2015 we had a drought year summer and we had predominantly south winds which blew, you know, the typical floating seagrass and Florida Bay up into the bay. And so we had the perfect storm of of issues in Florida Bay for today was became obviously more high pursuing than

00:25:08:02 - 00:25:25:17
Unknown
it is on a regular year because it's in a constant state of hyper salinity right now to the extent that it was almost three times the salt content of seawater. Wow. So so you have that and then you have all this this floating grass getting pushed in there that would wash over in the heat of the summertime

00:25:26:01 - 00:25:39:17
Unknown
, degrades and breaks down and all those nutrients break down. And we had four bay became a beach and sort of put some perspective on this for the bay is the bay of bays from the fishing community it's where saltwater fly fishing was born.

00:25:40:00 - 00:26:01:17
Unknown
Oh, we're flip Chico and. Oh, okay. Sorry. It's all right. Dogs are welcome on my podcast. The worst watchdog of all time. He's barking because something happened 10 minutes ago. But so. It's we're Flip Paola and Chico Fernandez and Lefty Cray.

00:26:01:18 - 00:26:16:09
Unknown
All the legends in the industry built their name, and majority of the permanent Bonefish records come from there. I can't tell you how many Tarpon records come from there. It's what created the sportfishing capital of the world. And Alma-Ata.

00:26:16:09 - 00:26:32:22
Unknown
It's the Bay of Bass. And I built my business pulling on that day. I fed my. My family. My daughters have grown up on that bay. It's saved my life because, like I said at the beginning of my life, I didn't think that it was impossible to be a guide.

00:26:32:22 - 00:26:49:08
Unknown
So this bay proved to me that I could. And that's where I made my name in 2015. That perfect storm of scenarios that I told you about. Created the largest algal bloom that I've ever seen. And in like three days, we lost 50,000 acres of seagrass.

00:26:51:06 - 00:27:11:11
Unknown
I don't know how to describe what that looks like, but from somebody who's connected on a soul level to that day, it was like watching a child there. And that was impactful, to say the least. And then I was I was ready at that point to be an advocate already, like I said.

00:27:11:11 - 00:27:26:08
Unknown
And I went to my first district meeting, which is way prior to captains for clean water being formed, went to my first district meeting and not one time did they mention quarterback. And I lost my mind. I went to I found out with the next subcommittee hearing meeting was and there were some people going from from the

00:27:26:08 - 00:27:42:10
Unknown
he's up there similar ideals as me you know just trying to understand what was going on. And when we brought up Florida Bay, they laughed at us and Senator Wilton Simpson, who's now the Senate president, and this will come back more relevant later in the story.

00:27:42:10 - 00:27:56:23
Unknown
But that at the time he was just a first time senator. His name is Wilton Simpson is just south of Lake Okeechobee, which is the farmlands. And he said he looked me in the eyes and he said, that's that water is never going to go into Florida Bay.

00:27:57:07 - 00:28:22:05
Unknown
That water belongs to agriculture. And at that moment, what he didn't realize he created was the perfect storm of guides becoming advocates. And Daniel Andrews and Christie Whitman were at that meeting. Shortly thereafter, clean water was formed and slowly but surely lost after lost beating, after being laughed in our face, after laughing our face, we created a

00:28:22:06 - 00:28:39:13
Unknown
movement that now is several hundred thousand people strong. And when things like that happen, we show up. And and I think that's it's a testament to to Floridians in general when they become educated on what's going on, the real things that are going on.

00:28:40:10 - 00:29:00:05
Unknown
The legislators that just don't care, the businesses that profit off of the loss of our environment, we get, we are motivated to speak up. And I've spent the last three years with the show educating the general public, educating the younger generations that not only is it the right thing to do to protect the environment, but it's your

00:29:00:13 - 00:29:17:07
Unknown
responsibility as a Floridian, as an angler, as a community, as an outdoor outdoorsman, that it's our responsibility speak up. Because if we don't, absolutely no one will. No one will. Benny, let's fast forward till today. And you recently were in Tallahassee.

00:29:17:13 - 00:29:35:23
Unknown
If I'm not mistaken, to advocate for a water issue. What's happening now? Okay. So flash forward to my friend Wilton Simpson, who's now Senate president. And in this particular session, the sugar industry has spent $11 million in campaign contributions in the state of Florida alone.

00:29:36:23 - 00:29:59:24
Unknown
They did that to see this particular bill, Senate Bill 2508 was filed in Senate President Bill Simpson's Senate appropriations budget meeting as a conforming bill. And I didn't know any of this because I'm not a politician. But I knew very well where now that a conforming bill is meant to be like an amendment to an existing bill

00:29:59:24 - 00:30:23:17
Unknown
, it's very minor with wording or something very small. And they they introduced new legislation that would have affected all the progress that we've made in the last six years from a good restoration in a conforming bill. They slid in at 4:01 p.m. on Friday afternoon, February 4th, four days prior to the only public hearing that a conforming

00:30:23:17 - 00:30:39:01
Unknown
bill's required to have. And I got a call from Daniel Andrews that following Monday I was on the water with a client and he said three sentences to me and hung up the phone. He said, Benny, call me, call me back ASAP.

00:30:39:24 - 00:30:52:17
Unknown
Or life or death situation. Tallahassee. We need to be there tomorrow. And Daniel doesn't call for those things. I mean, my client on the board, I got down off the barrel of the polling platform and some day is over.

00:30:52:24 - 00:31:06:10
Unknown
I need to go do what I need to go do. And my clients are all educated now. So he knew, you know, it's game time. And I spent the next 14 hours calling every guy I could call, calling every industry player I could call.

00:31:06:11 - 00:31:27:18
Unknown
Kosta Sunglasses offered to pay for everybody to go up there. We got 50 guides in Tallahassee in 24 hours and we went to that committee meeting. We spoke up and they again laughed in our face. This time we have an engaged community that we've rallied over the last six years on social media, you know, on our email

00:31:27:18 - 00:31:46:18
Unknown
list. And while we lost that first in the the only public hearing, the appropriations budget, the conforming bill passed 6 to 4 in the week between that and the Senate hearing, which was on this past Thursday. We were 400 yards to show up in Tallahassee.

00:31:48:01 - 00:32:06:12
Unknown
Industry showed up Kosta Shimano yet he I mean every every media outlet that we could showed up and when the Senate found out that we were we were there on that Wednesday night, they filed an amendment to remove all that damaging language, most of the damaging language.

00:32:06:12 - 00:32:20:00
Unknown
There's still some that we're going to try to address in the House, but because we were able to find the bill early, identify what the problems were, mobilize and then educate our following that this is what was happening.

00:32:20:00 - 00:32:40:24
Unknown
And we needed help in Tallahassee on Thursday because we showed up, because we found it and spoke up. It was stopped. Otherwise it would have been status quo and Everglades restoration land like it's been for the last 50 years, where the sugar industry can buy their way into another loophole, another hurdle, and this this delay tactics, tactics

00:32:40:24 - 00:32:56:17
Unknown
, strategy that the delays funding and reprioritizing projects so that they can we can never get anything done in this case, for the first time in 50 years of fighting against the sugar industry. They conceded and the people won for the first time.

00:32:57:01 - 00:33:13:15
Unknown
And in my world, that's a huge deal. You know, I don't know how to describe it to you other than, you know, the senators now know, the House reps now know that if they're pulling back the door crap like this again, that we're going to show up and we're going to knock on the door and we're going

00:33:13:15 - 00:33:31:05
Unknown
to make a mess of it because we're not going to stand for special interests controlling the environment anymore. It sounds like a victory for your group and something that you can build on. What what do you want to accomplish next as a as an organization and personally in terms of environmental achievements?

00:33:31:22 - 00:33:52:19
Unknown
I mean, for me, doing twofold. Personally, my goal is to change the culture of the outdoor community, to make everyone understand that they're conservationists, they're not outdoorsmen, to make everyone understand they have a responsibility to whether it's water or woods that they love, that they experience, that they are the voice.

00:33:52:20 - 00:34:14:06
Unknown
That's my personal goal. That's why I do this show. That's why I speak up. That's why I have a social presence. That's why I'm doing podcasts. From an organization standpoint, our goal is to push Everglades restoration into a place where we're seeing positive change finally in the estuaries that we love and that we need to survive.

00:34:15:14 - 00:34:32:03
Unknown
And we're so close to that happening. And that's why this hit us so hard two weeks ago that we've had progress like no one's ever seen in rhetoric, restoration the last six years, record funding from the federal government, record funding from the state of Florida, record privatization of projects.

00:34:32:15 - 00:34:48:18
Unknown
The Army Corp issuing permits, the district following through like it was a whirlwind of good news in a in a life of bad news for the Everglades. And for them to shoot to stab us in the back like that was was personal.

00:34:49:02 - 00:35:03:18
Unknown
And that's why everybody showed up. And so as an organization, we've got to get past these critical stages so that our projects that we have online right now can get done. Right now, we have 27 or 28 projects of the 68 and the Central Everglades restoration plan going forward right now.

00:35:03:18 - 00:35:17:10
Unknown
And if we can see those projects done, then not only will we see progress in our in our estuaries and fisheries, but the senators and congressmen that we've been promising for the last six years that things are going to get done, will see that we're holding to our word and they'll continue the funding.

00:35:17:18 - 00:35:34:22
Unknown
And Everglades will actually you could potentially see Everglades restoration to fruition. And that's that's that's our organization goal. It's why we formed it it's why we organize. It's why we educate. It's our goal. And we are so close to having something tangible shared to share with everybody.

00:35:35:06 - 00:35:55:18
Unknown
And the reality is, I also went to Texas first week to speak at a short and limited event in in Canyon Lake, which is just outside of Boston. And everywhere I go, there's major water rights issues, major pollution issues where we're already where communities don't know how to organize and how to speak up.

00:35:56:01 - 00:36:09:05
Unknown
And I tell them about captains and what we've done here and our progress here. So we went here. Not only are we winning for the Everglades and we're punching back and special interests and showing that to our community that they have the power to do so.

00:36:09:14 - 00:36:29:05
Unknown
But we're showing communities all over the planet that have water issues. That's possible, and anybody can do it. And that's I mean, that's that culture change I'm telling you about. That's that's what we need. And it's not it's less about and it's nothing about us personally, me, me being on a TV show.

00:36:29:05 - 00:36:39:20
Unknown
Like, I never wanted to be on a TV show. I never wanted to be on TV. I just wanna be a guide and we all just want to be guides. But, you know, now our lives revolve around making a difference.

00:36:39:20 - 00:36:54:08
Unknown
And and it's happening. We're doing it. Well, you've risen to the occasion, and you're. You're trying to save something that you love and that has provided a life for you. I think it's important to hold politicians accountable for the way that they vote on environmental issues.

00:36:54:16 - 00:37:14:02
Unknown
And every election year we have every two years we can choose our representatives. And every four years our senators in the state of Florida and every four years, our governor. And I think it's so important as part of the education process on environmental issues, for voters to understand where their representatives and senators and governor stand environmentally, what

00:37:14:03 - 00:37:27:07
Unknown
have they done? What did they promise? What did they actually execute and and vote based on that, among other things. But that's an important thing to vote on, because without that, there's no accountability and they can do whatever they want and get away with whatever they want.

00:37:28:03 - 00:37:44:16
Unknown
On that note, we're almost wrapping up here, Bonnie. I just have really one more question to you. It's a future looking question I want to ask you. What do you see in the future environmentally in Florida? I see major positive changes in all of our fisheries because we're going to make it so.

00:37:44:23 - 00:37:59:19
Unknown
I mean, like I said, our our this movement, this cultural change is growing so fast. And the more people become educated, the faster it grows. You know, I tell people that all the time. When you learn something new, the first thing you want to do is tell someone.

00:38:00:10 - 00:38:14:06
Unknown
And and people are becoming educated on what's going on. They're learning that when their senator is is funded by sugar industry or Mosaic or any of the other special interests in the state of Florida, that their their their personal interests are not at heart.

00:38:14:11 - 00:38:32:20
Unknown
They don't take it to heart. I mean, as the Everglades is a perfect example, if you don't know how to do, you need a litmus test for your senator or your House rep? Every single time in the last 25 years, Floridians have been asked to vote to prioritize Everglades restoration, an overwhelmingly resounding yes.

00:38:33:04 - 00:38:53:06
Unknown
We voted over 70% of the time. We vote to restore the Everglades, to take my money, to prioritize it. But over the last 25 years, there's been a resounding 70% no from our senators and our House reps when it comes to voting for everybody's key restrictions, issues like this one, Senate Bill 25.

00:38:53:17 - 00:39:10:02
Unknown
There were 16 senators that voted for bad language that would have siphoned or slowed down the Everglades restoration process. To me, if that's one of my senators, there is no way I'm voting for that person again. That's a good litmus test, right?

00:39:10:11 - 00:39:23:05
Unknown
And so that's what I see happening in Florida in the future. I see educated voters who aren't worried, concerned about blue or red. They're concerned about the environment because in the state of Florida, a healthy environment is a healthy economy.

00:39:23:09 - 00:39:42:13
Unknown
There's there's no two bones about that or $130 million $30 billion tourism industry annually. Agriculture in this state is eight. There's no comparison. The recreational fishing industry in South Florida's $30 billion. We speak loudly and we should speak loudly.

00:39:42:13 - 00:39:54:11
Unknown
And the more we can be educated, then the more we make those positive change. So I see a healthy forward in the future because we're going to make it so. Penny. That's a great note to end on a note of optimism.

00:39:54:11 - 00:40:16:11
Unknown
With me today, Captain Benny Blanco, who has given birth to hundreds, if not thousands of Everglades activists on the bow of his little skiff, where he goes polling for for all kinds of fish in Florida waters and and also has reached millions of people on his television show which is called Guiding Flow on the Waypoint TV streaming

00:40:16:11 - 00:40:32:10
Unknown
channel. Penny, thank you so much for joining us. It's been a great talk. Oscar any time. I mean, thank you so much for spreading the message. This episode of The Nature of Florida podcast was brought to you in part by the Everglades Foundation, the Feldman Foundation, the Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida and Explicou Media.

00:40:32:15 - 00:40:45:04
Unknown
If you're enjoying this podcast, remember to subscribe on our website. The Nature of Florida with Oscar Corral the best Broadcom. That's the nature of Florida with Oscar Corral, Douglas, Broadcom. Or find us on your favorite platform and follow us on Facebook and Instagram.