redfish release

Sun file photo by Jerry Beard

A volunteer releases young redfish raised at the Duke Energy Mariculture Center in Crystal River into the waters of Placida last August. This project, which was a joint venture of Duke, the FWC and CCA Florida, released tens of thousands of redfish into Florida waters last year.

We have the ability to help our devastated fish stocks and make a positive impact that could have rebuilt our fish stocks already. The science for this kind of stock enhancement has been available for a long time. If we had started raising redfish when our red tide started, they could be entering our slot now!

I personally invested years of time and energy participating in aquaculture research development. We brought in experts from all over the country to vet procedures and develop protocols that assured everything man can control. Now fishing is closed for our big three species (redfish, trout and snook) from Pasco County to Naples. Closures help stocks recover but also hurt many families and businesses.

What if there were a way to add more fish to the environment? Hatcheries could be relieving this problem. Why don’t we have hatcheries?

Former FWC Director Ken Haddad created and shepherded a stocking project before he retired from FMRI. Mote, Harbor Branch, Scripps and other expert participated and contributed to develop and compose guidelines.

The procedures were thoroughly vetted. Our group was made up of knowledgeable representatives from every aspect of fishing and scientist to assure every consideration was scientifically addressed. We had it down to how long it would take to raise redfish to specific sizes and exactly what it would cost.

The critical thing we never could get was the funds to make it happen. Talk, talk, talk — but no funds. Karl Wickstrom, the founder of Florida Sportsman magazine, died asking for hatcheries but never was able to find funds to make it reality.

We did experiments in Tampa Bay that proved successful with redfish stock enhancement. They lasted several years and showed how much impact a few stocked redfish could have. The documentation is available; it is reliable data showing it works. Why can’t we stay focused and make it reality? Mote has conducted extensive continuing research with snook studies documenting that stock enhancement could help stocks recover rapidly if we funded it. I’m hearing about a new hatchery, but will I ever see it built?

We were assured for decades that the money was coming from oil spill funds to build a hatchery to further document our research, but it never happened. Politicians always took the money and used it elsewhere. I see the state bought 20,161 acres of Panhandle lands for conservation. That’s great, but we have voted for sources to do this from doc stamps which legislators refuse to use — yet they steal from funds earmarked for fishery enhancement.

Why is this so important? As I mentioned, our big three target species are shut down to allow stocks to rebuild from red tide devastation. Our group understood these disasters were inevitable and anticipated them. We worked hard to provide the methods to enhance or fish populations after red tide, freezes or phosphate-related fish kills.

How much money and pleasure have been lost because of our depleted fish stocks? I’ve seen figures that would grab your attention. It’s big bucks. Billions. Development and real estate have balanced our economy so our fishing money losses have not shown up as clearly to the general economy. But fishing-related businesses are hurting. I’ve had my lowest fishing income in almost 50 years. It was better when I started out back in the 1970s!

Tourism has done well because our local Tourist Development Council is doing a fantastic job promoting other activities. Give them credit for saving our bacon. But please consider why folks originally chose to settle in our area. The the original reason people lived in and came to Charlotte County was our waters and fishing! Commercial fishing supported the establishment of local coastal economies.

How can we fund hatcheries? Maybe some collaboration with private entities like the big public aquariums to experiment with pilot projects? They all need fish and more exposure. Tampa, Atlanta, and other places have great aquariums, plus Sea World wants and needs better press. Maybe they’d be interested? We need to get this ball rolling somehow. We need the ability to supplement our fish stocks. With growth, development and increased fishing pressure, it’s crucial to our future that we can help mitigate our take and losses.

Next week: What about the proposed fish farm offshore of Sarasota?

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.

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.

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