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Tag: snook regulations

Florida West Coast Snook Season to Re-Open Sept. 1


The first harvest in over three years will be allowed on Florida’s west coast thanks to a comeback of the cold-sensitive species after a 2010 freeze.

By Frank Sargeant, Editor, The Fishing Wire

The end of an unprecedented harvest closure for one of Florida’s premiere gamefish is now approaching at long last. Not since 2009 have anglers along Florida’s west coast been permitted to catch and eat the common snook, but the last day of that closure will be August 31.

Though the season re-opens on Sept. 1, fish of this size must be released–the harvest slot is a scant 5 inches, from 28 to 33 inches. (Photo Credit Captain Scott Moore.)
The season was closed in January of 2010 after an extended bout of cold weather killed tens of thousands of the warm-water fish, with the effect most pronounced in the shallow waters of the Gulf Coast.

Now, scientists report, fish stocks appear to have recovered adequately to allow a return to former harvest regulations, with one fish daily from 28 to 33 inches allowed, and closed seasons from May through August and December through February annually on the west coast.

Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission biologists Rachel Scharer, Carly Canion and Melissa Recks, in an exceptionally-understandable report concluded in May, reviewed the status of snook stocks on both coasts and reported the West Coast fish are again at numbers where controlled harvest will do the population no harm. (On the East Coast, where the cold kill was less severe, the normal season was restored in September, 2011.)

In an abundance of caution the FFWCC extended the closure beyond what was probably necessary for full recovery of the West Coast stocks. In June 2012, a stock assessment indicated the Gulf stock was exceeding the Commission’s 40% SPR management goal with a “spawning potential ratio” (SPR) of 56%. (The SPR is the number of snook reaching spawning age in a fished population compared to the number that should reach spawning age in an unfished population.) Similarly, the Atlantic stock was continuing to show improvement with an SPR of 34%, compared to an SPR value of 25% in 2006.

However, biologists said the juvenile population on the Gulf had been negatively affected by the cold temperatures, despite the fact that it was not reflected in the SPR. And many anglers testified asking for more time for the gulf stock to recover. The Commission agreed and kept the fishery closed. The Gulf thus remains closed under an Emergency Order (12-11) set to expire August 31, 2013.

While there’s likely to be a huge take of snook for the first few days of the newly-opened season as anglers rush to enjoy a fish that’s been off the menu so long, biologists say the harvest likely won’t impact the recovery long term.

FWC interviews indicate anglers release more than 90% of the snook they catch statewide, and since 2005 have released more than 95%. According to the FWC, the total catch in 2012, including the number of fish released, was 236,377 snook on the Atlantic coast and 1,034,083 snook in the Gulf. In the Atlantic the total catch of snook peaked at 689,000 fish in 1995. In the Gulf, catch peaked at 2,348,000 fish in 2005. Catch and release mortality has not been factored into these calculations.

Scientists say the biological threshold for common snook-the level at which populations might be harmed by fishing pressure–is just 20 percent SPR. The current management goal of 40 percent is result of the status anglers have given the species, requesting more and larger fish for catch-and-release rather than the opportunity to harvest more fish. The higher required survival level also gives a buffer in times of natural declines.

Red tide and cold weather are not part of these calculations, so managing on the high side of the SPR makes sense to allow for these uncontrollable natural phenomena.

Researchers estimate the adult stock biomass dropped nearly 20% in 2010, and estuarine sampling showed that juvenile snook were more affected by the extreme temperatures, meaning the total effects of the cold weather on the spawning stock will not be realized for several more years as what is potentially a missing year class would be reaching maturity.

Local anglers along the west coast are still reporting snook numbers not a match for what they were prior to the peak in the fall of 2009, but hopefully with the limiting harvest regulations, the population will continue to climb even with an open season. For details, visit www.myfwc.com.

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