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Is this what our future holds: More mullet on the fillet table?

We all want to know what the future holds, which is why fortune-telling has been a moneymaker for as long as we’ve been able to tell lies with straight faces. While I claim no particular skills at prophecy, I have been around long enough to make educated guesses about some things that might happen. Let’s explore some possibilities.

Red Tide

It’s on everybody’s mind after last year’s lingering outbreak killed fish and created yucky beach conditions for months on end. What will this summer bring?

Here’s the hard truth: It’s impossible to know. We simply do not understand enough about red tide to be able to predict it. We can’t tell when conditions are ripe for it to bloom, and once it’s started we can’t tell if conditions are becoming less favorable so that an ongoing bloom is likely to subside.

We just don’t understand how it works, no matter how much we read and hear from very adamant people who are intent on blaming it on a variety of sources, ranging from cow pastures and septic tanks to lawn fertilizer and phosphate mining.

It’s possible that any or all of these (and many other issues) are related to red tide outbreaks. But until science advances our understanding of red tide, all we can do is go fishing and keep our fingers crossed.

Hurricanes

Hurricane season begins this weekend, but I wouldn’t be in a rush to hang those hurricane window coverings just yet. The beginning of hurricane season is arbitrarily set for June 1, because June 1 is near the date which statistics show is the beginning of the half of the year during which most hurricanes are formed. Those same statistics show that hurricanes are not significantly more likely on June 1 than on May 31.

What about this year? What can we expect? Seasonal hurricane activity seems to be no more predictable than red tide. NOAA’s supercomputers have gotten fairly good at predicting the tracks of hurricanes once they form, but the ability to forecast how active any given season will be still eludes us.

As many of you have already seen the experts at Colorado State University are predicting that 2019’s hurricane season will be somewhat quieter than an average year. But CSU’s accuracy with pre-season activity predictions ain’t great. A quick scan of the last 14 years of predictions shows an error rate over 50 percent — in other words, they’re wrong more than they’re right.

As a side note, does anybody besides me wonder why these predictions come from a university in Colorado? That’s pretty far from hurricane country. Would it be more motivating if we stationed our brightest hurricane minds on some tiny unsheltered island in the Caribbean and told them we’d pick them up once they’d figured it out?

Mullet

With trout, redfish and snook designated as catch-and-release only for the next year, it will be interesting to watch how anglers respond. How many fishermen will continue to target these three species for catch-and-release only, and how many will shift their fishing effort to other species for which harvest is allowed?

There has already been talk about more anglers fishing offshore this year in response to the closures on these three popular inshore fish, but it’s not quite a simple as just changing where you go to fish.

Pier anglers, waders and kayakers don’t have this option. Even boat owners are limited. Boats that are great for fishing the shallows of Charlotte Harbor are not necessarily great (or safe) for fishing many miles out in the Gulf.

Further, the bigger bay boats which do have more offshore capability will be missing out on a lot more fishing days due to wind than they would have missed if they’d planned to fish in the relatively protected waters of the Harbor.

I think that we’ll see more “other” fish being targeted in the estuaries by fishermen who want to see color in the cooler at the end of the fishing day. There are some obvious candidates: Mangrove snapper, Spanish mackerel, sheepshead, flounder, sand seatrout (commonly called silver trout in our region), whiting, sharks, and more.

But what about mullet? Mullet used to be the most-eaten fish in our waters. It was the export of mullet that first put Punta Gorda on the nation’s fishing radar in the late 1800s. Will mullet experience a rise in table popularity during the time that snook, redfish and trout are closed?

That might not be a bad thing. If we ate more mullet, we’d be eating lower on the food chain, which is more efficient from a productivity standpoint than eating the predators.

Let’s go fishing!

Capt. Ralph Allen runs the King Fisher Fleet of sightseeing and fishing charter boats located at Fishermen’s Village in Punta Gorda. He is an award-winning outdoor writer and photographer, and is a past president of the Florida Outdoor Writers Association. Contact him at 941-639-2628 or Captain@KingFisherFleet.com.

Capt. Ralph Allen runs the King Fisher Fleet of sightseeing and fishing charter boats located at Fishermen’s Village in Punta Gorda. He is an award-winning outdoor writer and photographer, and is a past president of the Florida Outdoor Writers Association. Contact him at 941-639-2628 or Captain@KingFisherFleet.com.

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