Southwest Florida’s anglers are very, very lucky that the FWC operates the Charlotte Harbor Fisheries Independent Fish Monitoring field station, from which researchers have been sampling fish populations in Charlotte Harbor for many years. This gives fishery managers valuable information on long-term fluctuations in the populations of many of the species of fish which live in Charlotte Harbor.
If you’ve spent much time on the water in our area, you’ve probably seen these guys (and gals) at work. They operate the boats that have “Marine Research” written on the side. You might see them dragging nets behind the boat, or wading in the shallows pulling nets by hand.
A recent conversation with Dave Blewett, director of the facility, offered a bit of insight about the effects of last year’s red tide episode on our snook population. Blewett reports that in some areas, especially in backwaters near the ICW, that there are essentially no baby snook being seen from last summer’s spawn. But in other areas that are further inland, there are tiny snook being found from that spawn.
Overall, he rates the success of last year’s snook spawn in Southwest Florida as weak. But he notes that years of weak spawning success happen regularly for a variety of reasons, and that because individual snook spend many years spawning in the estuary, it’s unlikely that fishermen will notice a downturn in the fishery as a result of one weak season. For snook, it takes a few consecutive years of poor spawning success to have a noticeable effect on the fishery.
Blewett also noted that the impact of last year’s red tide on the snook population was far less pronounced than the cold weather snook kills approximately a decade ago, when it was thought that as many as half of the adult snook in Florida perished.
No one knows the numbers of snook that died last year, but he estimates that perhaps 10 percent of the population of adult snook on the Gulf coast may have perished. This is an interesting observation for sure. Of course, the distribution of the mortality was uneven, which means that the fish in some areas were relatively unaffected while there were areas where the impact was more severe.
And now for something completely different: Have you ever witnessed a bad car wreck or some other horrible accident? It produces an unsettling combination of fear for the safety of those involved and an adrenaline rush as you figure out what to do to help. Rush in immediately to render aid? Call 911 first? Are there safety concerns for you at the accident scene?
We thought we had stumbled into such a situation recently. One of our tour boats was returning from a day cruise to the islands. As it neared Punta Gorda, it encountered a small boat that was swamped, barely afloat, and surrounded by a floating debris field that included seat cushions and other stuff.
Fearing the worst, the captain had passengers and crew keep a lookout for survivors in the water, and notified the U.S. Coast Guard in Fort Myers Beach of the situation and their position as he slowly and carefully motored up to the stricken vessel. They eventually got alongside the small boat and were able to get vessel registration numbers for the USCG, which instructed our boat to stand by on the scene and continue to look for possible victims in the water until emergency assistance arrived.
Shortly thereafter, a commercial towboat arrived, presumably having monitored the radio conversation between our boat and the USCG. Then something unexpected happened: A sailboat motored up near the swamped boat and began picking up the floating items, then went to the boat and tied it off.
When asked, the folks on the sailboat said that they’d been towing the small boat astern, had lost their tow, and had come back to recover it. So there was no crisis and no need to continue looking for victims, which was a relief, and the search was canceled.
It’s not clear why the sailboat did not tell anyone on scene what had happened. Presumably they were not monitoring a VHF radio since they did not join the conversation about the swamped boat. Had they done so, a lot of worry and effort would have been avoided.
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.