lionfish

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A lot of people have been very concerned about lionfish in Florida waters, but now it looks as though a natural phenomenon might be reducing their numbers.

If you spend a little time doing inquisitive reading, you can learn some interesting stuff. This is not a new idea, but it’s a point that sometimes gets lost in today’s social media-driven world where we are force-fed a never-ending torrent of information, most which is intended to tell us what to think about stuff. Sadly, much of this barrage of information is not vetted or accurate — but that’s a topic for another day. Here are a few interesting things that I’ve stumbled upon in recent weeks by spending a little time actually turning pages.

Gulf Council Meeting

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council held a meeting during the third week of October at which there were discussions of topics with the potential to affect Southwest Florida anglers. One of these was a review of the newly released stock assessment on red grouper in the Gulf of Mexico.

A stock assessment is a study of the status of the stock of a specific species of fish in a specific geographic area. A team of scientists who are familiar with that species of fish is assembled to collect and review the latest data on the fish being assessed. Then computer models are created or updated to use that latest data, and a report is issued which gives information on the status of the stock of that fish.

The red grouper stock assessment being reviewed was released in July and is contained in a document that runs a mind-numbing 250 pages. I confess: I did not read it in its entirety. But I did read enough to pick up a few interesting points.

For example, the computer models don’t have a built-in way to account for the effects of red tide, so the resourceful scientists created a phantom fishing fleet in the model called the Red Tide Fleet and assigned landings to that fleet that consisted of their best guesses about the red tide mortality on red grouper for each year. Kind of a cool work-around.

And here’s very interesting statement that gives some insight into the odd and inefficient federal system of fisheries management: According to the technical definitions currently being used to manage the red grouper stock, red grouper is not defined as being overfished or as currently undergoing overfishing — even though the biomass of red grouper in the Gulf is estimated to now be at its lowest point since 1986. That’s a head-scratcher for sure.

Lionfish

The fall edition of “Waterworks”, the newsletter of the University of Florida Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences Program (http://bit.ly/2NUWgjp) includes a paper written by UF Ph.D. student Holden Harris which examines the possibility that lionfish populations could be controlled by establishing a commercial fishery for these prolific exotic invasive reef fish.

Harris looked at different types of fishing gear that could possibly be used in a commercial fishery and considered several other topics, such as the economics of a potential commercial fishery. He noted something that shows that this young man possesses a good dose of common sense: Using commercial fishing to control a population of fish isn’t likely to be successful because a commercial fishery depends on a reliable, healthy population of its target fish species. If there are a lot of them, then commercial fishermen can make money by targeting them. If there aren’t as many, then chasing them isn’t economically viable.

So the commercial guys might fish them for a while, but if they catch enough of them to deplete the population then the commercial fishery will go away. On the other hand, if they can’t harvest enough lionfish to make a dent in the population, then what’s the point of promoting a commercial fishery to control the fish?

Then, almost in passing, Harris mentioned that there is a newly observed disease showing up in lionfish populations which has reduced the numbers of these fish by 55 to 75 percent at some reef locations. This disease was first observed in August of 2017 in the northern Gulf off Destin, but has since been reported at several locations on Florida’s Gulf and Atlantic coasts and at multiple Caribbean and Central American reefs.

Researchers have not yet figured out what is causing the disease or how it works but it serves to illustrate an interesting point: If we get out of her way, often Mother Nature will eventually find a way to take care of things (my observation, not his).

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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