Last year Florida Fish and Wildlife opened snook for recreational harvest throughout the state.
Four years ago Florida experienced a freeze that sent temperatures plummeting into the twenties and even low teens. It affected Floridian’s daily lives, killed crops and damaged Florida’s ecology. This included massive fish kills – mainly one of Florida’s most popular game fish; snook.
After the Freeze
In response to the massive fish kills triggered by the cold snap FWC (Florida Fish and Wildlife) banned the harvest of snook. The ban was lifted just last year when FWC determined that snook stocks were again at healthy levels. This action has triggered dramatic backlash from anglers all over Florida from recreational anglers to seasoned guides.
“I think the opening of the season was a terrible idea”, said Captain Neil Taylor. “Snook are more valuable alive than dead and now people are targeting them putting more pressure on them when currently they can’t handle the stress”.
FWC’s biologists claim that stock assessments conducted prior to the opening of the season support their belief that stocks are now recovered and ready for recreational harvest. They also believe that larger snook weren’t as heavily impacted by the cold.
“They have no idea how many fish died, I called the fish kill hot line multiple times and no one ever came out to investigate”, said Taylor. “They’re said that the larger ones weren’t hit as hard and it’s just not true, they’re a tropical fish and cold kills them simple as that.” “Their stock estimates all talk about ratios- their base number is 40% of 5 million when now it’s more near 40% of 5,000 fish left.”
Captain Taylor wrote many letters to FWC regarding this matter, however this fell on deaf ears.
“There’s just no regional management and it’s simply a terrible program”, said Taylor. “I would go to creeks where snook go to hide in the colder winter months and find that they were gone”. “In 08’/09’ every time I took people out they averaged 14 snook a person – and they were quality fish 29-41 inches”. “None of my clients have caught a single snook since October”.
FWC planned on opening the season in 2012 but it caused such an outcry that it was delayed for a year. Before the season was opened, FWC devised regulations that they believed would help make for a sustainable harvest.
Under current regulations, anglers may only take one fish per angler per day. That fish must be within the size range of 28-33 inches long. Also the season is only open from December 1st to the end of February. A second snook season runs from May 1st to August 31st.
Snook in the Future
Although there are regulations in place, there is still controversy. “It’s just not necessary to be removing breeders right now”, said local angler Aaron Myers. This sentiment is echoed by Captain Stewart Ames, “Last year I didn’t remove a single snook, I have all my anglers handle these fish with care – we don’t keep them out of the water for more than 30-40 seconds at a time.” “I don’t know the numbers that FWC has but from my personal experience the population has not recovered”.
This is a huge issue for Florida because snook are an indicator species. Snook are essentially a microscope which can be looked through to assess the overall health of Florida’s marine ecosystems. Generally, healthy snook populations are indicative of healthy marine environments.
The dialogue that was supposed to occur between the two sides is still in purgatory. Only time will tell the future of the snook and Florida’s marine ecology.