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Carl Wernicke: Bream Fishermen Association Exemplifies Grassroots Volunteering


In the 1960s, a little known group of local fishermen, worried about severe pollution affecting the waters they fished in, formed a group called the Bream Fishermen Association. Formally chartered in 1970, over the last 40-plus years BFA volunteers have doggedly and tirelessly measured water quality across Northwest Florida and South Alabama. Adhering to strict scientific standards, the group has built a documented record accepted by the state of Florida for inclusion in its own database.

Over the years the group’s work has led to some notable successes, such as tracing pollution discovered in Brushy Creek, a tributary of the Perdido River, to a sewage treatment plant in Alabama. This led to improvements at the plant that corrected the problem.

According to the BFA’s website, the group’s lobbying efforts in the 1970s, when pollution of Pensacola Bay and area bayous had everyone seriously worried, led to establishment of a local office of the Department of Environmental Protection, including a chemistry lab.

In recent years the group’s longtime leadership, headed by people like Charles Lowery, J.D. Brown and Ernie Rivers, has given way to a younger future. Today the president is Barbara Albrecht, an East Hill resident who lives just a block from my house. She has a background in marine biology, and specializes in aquatic toxology.

Recently I joined Barbara and several other volunteers on the BFA’s quarterly water quality sampling run, in conjunction with the University of West Florida.

It was a long day. We started at 6:15 in the morning and got back after 6 p.m. The day didn’t end until we had delivered several coolers filled with iced-down samples to the DEP office downtown. Over the long day we collected from numerous locations, including the Escambia River, both here and in Alabama, and the Perdido River in both states. In between we sampled numerous creeks, following a prescribed format for procedure and documentation at each stop.

I consider myself fairly familiar with the backroads and woods of this area, having spent countless hours over decades in hiking, canoeing and roadtrips across the area. But this trip took me to a number of places I had never been to, and showcased the great variety and natural beauty that still blesses this area. It also showed that, although we have made great advances since the horrific pollution that caused a nationwide revulsion in the 1960s and 70s, water quality remains threatened today from many sources.

One thing that has always been a plus for Northwest Florida is the high quality of its volunteer community activists. There are committed people giving up their money, and more importantly, their time and effort, to improve our community in countless ways. This holds true whether you are talking about environmental issues, education, health care, literacy, recreation, youth sports, feeding the poor, assisting those with special needs, or sustaining our many cultural assets, like the symphony, the opera, theater and more.

These people all understand one crucial lesson: if you are waiting for someone else, especially government, to deal with all of our pressing needs, it isn’t going to get done. If you want to help make a difference, there are numerous groups and issues that would benefit from your participation.

Carl Wernicke is a native of Pensacola. He graduated from the University of Florida in 1975 with a degree in journalism. After 33 years as a reporter and editor, he retired from the Pensacola News Journal in April 2012; he spent the last 15 years at the PNJ as editor of the editorial page. He joined the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in 2012 as Senior Writer and Communications Manager, and retired from IHMC in 2015.His hobbies include reading, traveling, gardening, hiking, enjoying nature around his home in Downtown Pensacola, as well as watching baseball and college football, especially the Florida Gators and New York Yankees. His wife, Patti, retired as a senior vice president at Gulf Winds Federal Credit Union and is a Master Gardener. Carl is a regular contributor to WUWF. His commentaries focus on life in and around the Pensacola area and range in subject matter from birding to downtown redevelopment and from preserving our natural heritage to life in local neighborhoods.