Great News on FWCC upcoming meeting to re-asses fish stocks, will most likely open sooner than scheduled!!!!!

Rich Damianos

  A Call to Action for all South West Florida Anglers -February 19th Deadline After a little over two and a half years since the largest loss of marine life in recorded history the FWC will be meeting on February 26 to discuss the re-evaluation of the current catch-and-release status of Trout, Snook and Redfish species in southwest Florida. Here’s a look backIn an abundance of caution and in response to stakeholder concerns, The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) implemented short-term conservative management measures by Executive Order to reduce pressure on stressed fish populations where red tide-related fish kills were most prevalent.Beginning August 2018, snook and red drum were made catch-and-release only from the southern portion of Manatee County through the northern portion of Collier County. At the September 2018 Commission meeting, Commissioners directed staff to expand the area where these catch-and-release measures apply northward through Pasco County, including all of Tampa Bay , and to extend the expiration date until May 10, 2019, to allow time for researchers to monitor these fisheries for signs of decline or rebuilding.In February 2019, additional catch-and-release measures were implemented for spotted seatrout larger than 20 inches in Pasco County through northern Collier County based on stakeholder concerns about potential red tide-related impacts for this species. These measures for spotted seatrout were also in place through May 10, 2019.At the May 2019 Commission meeting, the Commission extended the catch-and-release status for snook and red drum for an additional year and made spotted seatrout catch-and- release, making all three species catch-and-release only in this area through May 31, 2020. Then again in February of 2020 the EO was further extended to May 31,2021.What is FWC saying nowAccording to FWC their monitoring data indicates that the 2017-2019 red tide event did not cause long-term negative effects on snook, redfish, and spotted seatrout. Anglers and charter captains from the affected area report seeing more of each species since FWC implemented catch-and-release And the staff is recommending that the Executive Director rescind the catch-and-release EO and resume FWC regulations for harvest of these species.The issues at hand for SWFL anglers From speaking with several stakeholders in the affected area there is a clear consensus that returning to the pre closure regulations will only return us to the same sub slot dominated fishery we had before and there is a willingness from anglers that if they are going to see a sub slot fishery at least let them be a larger fish. Here are the main points that most agree on #1 -FWC should not reopen the Snook and Redfish species to the pre closure regulations. While the FWC has already published an adjustment to trout slot limits and harvest regulations they are not indicating they have any desire to do the same for Redfish or Snook. #2- The lower end of the slot limits on both species should be raised allowing for a better quality catch and release fishery and a larger harvested fish when one is taken. #3- After two and a half years of closure the red tide event has given the fishery time to rebuild a base stock that can be used to make the fishery even better than it was prior to the closure and transforming it for the future benefit of all stakeholders. #4 – With the ever growing population of Florida anglers and fishing visitors, along with advances in fish finding technologies a adjustment to the harvest of fishery stocks will be needed as the resource becomes more taxed.The What If’s What if we could raise the redfish slot minimum from 18” to 26”? What would that look like? As many of you can remember prior to the closing there was a lot of sub slot juveniles caught and while it’s great to catch any redfish every one can agree there’s just not much meat on the bone of a 18” red and they really don’t provide much of a battle from a anglers prospective. Raising this slot 8” would change the weight of a minimum keeper by approximately 200% which benefits every stakeholder – every one wins – A better picture and experience for the catch and release anglers and a larger filet for the harvest anglers. It’s important to remember that a coastal redfish only live inshore as juveniles. Over about 4 years they grow from a fry to 28” when they reach reproductive maturity they leave our inshore waters to live in the gulfs depths. The same “what if” holds true for snook too. Unlike the redfish our snook will be with us their entire life. The current snook slot is at 28” to 33” and many will remember the pre closer fishery where inshore anglers enjoyed a healthy population of sub slot fish while slot fish where hard to come by. Could we rebuild a healthy and heavier snook base stock by just committing to harvest adjustments?. What if we all agreed to raise the slot minimum from its current 28” to 30”. What if it was 33” to 36” – what would our fishery look like ? What would the anglers experience be with the sub base stocks increased size? These ideas under normal circumstances would be difficult to discuss or implement but the red tide event has given us the gift of time with no harvest and during this closure we have seen this fishery respond with some of the best fishing any of us has seen in quite some time. It has become evident that we have a unique opportunity in time where we can make normally tough painful adjustments to our regulations with what will be actually be a seamless transition because the closure has allowed us to build on the growth and rebound of this robust system.What You Can Do – February 19 deadline To make change happen will require a huge outpouring of public comment at the FWC meeting on February 26. Below is the link to make your position heard by all the commissioners that will shape the future of this fishery moving forward. The online public comment form must be submitted prior to the February 19th deadline.Please take the time to fill out the simple form and make your comments. If we can get just 1000 comments sent in we believe this would really get the attention of the commissioners and likely cause them to make adjustments to their plans.If you would like you can also copy and paste the statement below to the comment section of the form.What To SayCopy and paste this statement in the comments section of the link below I ask that the Executive Director not rescind the catch-and-release EO on snook and redfish and to not resume FWC regulations for harvest of these species as they are currently written. I believe current EO has provided an opportunity to build back a better fishery that will improve the catch quality for both catch and release and harvest anglers and that this could be done by raising the slot minimums on snook and redfish. I ask Executive Director to consider taking additional time to study and evaluate the benefits of a improved slot system that will enhance the fishery for the future and restore it to world class status for all stakeholders. Use this link address to make your voice heard before February 19th