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Lots of plants--why are nitrates so high?

Three years ago I removed the UGF from my 55-gallon to ease a high-nitrate 
problem and provide a better environment for plants. (started using a 
canister filter) Nitrates have been undetectable until recently, when they 
surged. I've done nothing differently I can think of, I have pretty heavy 
plant growth, and now I'm back to battling high nitrates with frequent water 
changes. Will I have to tear down the tank and start over? I have about 15 
medium size fish, all other standard measurements are fine (nitrites, 
ammonia, ph). DIY CO2.
Thanks for any advice.