The Coastal Conservation Association Florida brought two trucks carrying eight tanks filled with 2,000 juvenile redfish to the Port Charlotte Beach Complex on Tuesday. The fish were released into the waters where, hopefully, they will grow to maturity and spawn.
Some two dozen volunteers, CCA members and onlookers had been waiting patiently, and when they saw the trucks, cheers went up.
The CCA has been addressing the dwindling redfish population in Southwest Florida. Redfish are among Florida’s most sought-after inshore gamefish, according to the CCA. They are not harvested commercially.
Loss of habitat and water quality issues have reduced their population, as well as the populations of other marine life. Because of this, a harvest ban on redfish, snook and sea trout was put in place in late 2018. The ban is scheduled to end this June.
Replenishing redfish and other species balances our local ecosystem besides providing an economic opportunity.
Brian Gorski, executive director of CCA Florida, told the crowd that the fish were bred at Duke Energy Florida Mariculture Center in Crystal River.
Duke Energy, the CCA’s main partner, has cultivated and released more than 4 million fish, shrimp and crabs into the Gulf of Mexico over the past 30 years.
Currently the emphasis is on replenishing the redfish population. Since 2018, in partnership with Duke, the CCA has released nearly 35,000 redfish. Previously, sea trout were released, and eventually snook will be released into our coastal waters, said Gorski. But on Tuesday it was redfish’s turn.
Standing on one of the trucks, Gorski explained how the operation began. First, “eggs are collected from inside the facility,” he said. Then, they are put in incubation inside the Mariculture Center. Next, they are placed in “one million gallon outdoor ponds with shrimp, crabs and oysters,” which are brought in as larvae with seawater used to fill the ponds.
Once the fish reached 8 to 12 inches, they were loaded into the carrier tanks for transport from Crystal River to Port Charlotte. Each tank roughly contained 250 fish.
Capt. Leiza Fitzgerald of the CCA was on hand to help release the fish. She is executive director of the STAR catch and release tournament which gives out $500,000 in prize money and $100,000 in youth scholarships. The 100-day tournament runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day, she said.
One by one, volunteers, many of whom are CCA members, stepped up to the truck where they were handed plastic bags filled with both water and fish. They walked down a sandy kayak path, to the water where they opened the bags to let the fish swim away.
One of the volunteers was Punta Gorda resident Bill Hopkins. He was with his wife Zoe; he said they have been supporters of CCA for many years.
Hopkins told The Daily Sun some interesting facts, including that the juvenile redfish would now be in a habitat with predators, such as dolphins and sharks. The redfish would get to learn the smell of these large predators and be able to hide from them in such places as mangroves in very shallow water.
Another volunteer was Lindsay Ambler of Rhodan Marine Systems. Gorski said Rhodan has been supporting the CCA for the past decade.
Wearing rubber boots, Ambler waded into the water and spread open his bag, where very lively fish quickly moved away from him and the bag, into the world beyond and hopefully, a future of descendants.
Facts: Redfish reach maturity around 4 years of age and 30 inches long. After that, they are able to spawn.
Only slot redfish — those between 18 and 27 inches — are allowed to be harvested in order to protect the mature fish that spawn.