The concept of assisting the recovery of fish stocks has been around a long time. It’s been discussed, studied and thoroughly researched. In fact, our Florida Marine Research Institute in St. Petersburg had the insight to establish the Stock Enhancement Advisory Board decades ago.
Then-director Ken Haddad created and nurtured this board to study and create criteria for both stock enhancement and aquaculture. Understand it requires aquaculture to breed and raise the fish for stock enhancements. I know this because I was invited to participate and stayed the course.
We worked on these challenges for about 20 years. The board started off with invitations to acknowledged stakeholders in every aspect of our fisheries. Many fell by the wayside, but a dedicated, solid group followed through and got the job accomplished.
We brought in the experts from all over the country. We listened, bounced around concerns from every angle, and looked for workable solutions. It was educational for all involved, both board members and the scientists from all over the country with whom we worked. We established the accepted criteria for aquaculture now accepted worldwide as guidelines.
Mote Marine Laboratory got involved with the program. They were working on major aquaculture ideas and breeding snook, because William Mote (the benefactor for whose family the lab is named) loved snook. I know this because we fished together for snook and tarpon. We had some great catches and memories.
It’s interesting how things happen. Biologist Phil Chapman had first successfully bred snook in captivity. Then Mote’s staff developed consistent procedures to raise snook fingerlings. Mote’s staff had raised some snook that got contaminated, so they couldn’t be released among wild snook for stock enhancement.
Mote had invested serious time and money in developing the protocols for raising snook. We didn’t want to kill them, so I helped bring Mote and the Florida Game and Fish Commission (the FWC’s precursor) together.
First, we had to dispel the rumors the fish were going to be released in salt water. We didn’t want to waste the efforts, so we decided to release the snook in a freshwater lake, I believe near Lakeland. They couldn’t breed there, and would provide some bass fishermen with a nice surprise.
I set up a meeting between commissioner Don Hanson and Mr. Mote. We toured Mote’s facilities, educating Don. This created a bond of mutual respect and it led to combined efforts. It also led to the creation of the Snook Foundation — which has evolved and changed its mission, but still helps our fisheries.
When you get folks together who want to fix something, things can get worked out successfully if credit can be shared and egos left aside. You help them get acquainted, spend time together, share meals and get to know and trust each other. It’s wonderful how effective a group can become.
We communicated and discovered mutual goals, then found ways to work together towards achieving those goals. This cooperation led to developing the protocols for fishery stock enhancement and aquaculture development for fish production, which incorporated everyone’s concerns.
We ended up with Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory and many others working together, developing the answers to help develop thoroughly vetted solutions for our fishery and aquaculture needs. It did take a while — but working together got the job done, with input from everyone to be sure it was right.
It would be worth considering creating a select group of trustworthy individuals from all stakeholder groups concerned to attempt to tackle our water quality challenges. Experts who would be willing to listen and learn, to work together for workable solutions and to identify sources. Egos and agendas are part of our problem. IT might sound crazy, but I’ve seen it work before! We need to fix things, not fight over who is to blame.
Capt. Van Hubbard is a highly respected outdoor writer and fishing guide. He has been a professional USCG-licensed year-round guide since 1976, and has been fishing the Southwest Florida coast since 1981. Contact him at 941-468-4017 or VanHubbard@CaptVan.com.