Florida snook ban extension for Gulf of Mexico waters debated

NEWS & MEDIA GULF OF MEXICO NEWS

FWC says game fish needs another year to replenish

By: marcoislandflorida.com

Snook Fish. Photo by: NOAAGULF OF MEXICO – JULY 5, 2012 -A recent decision by The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to keep the the recreational harvest of snook in Gulf of Mexico waters closed until Sept. 1, 2013, a year past the original opening date, is drawing mixed reaction among area anglers. The vote to keep the season closed one additional year was made to offer the species additional protection after a 2010 cold kill hurt the population, the commission said. Dave Westra of Lehr’s Economy Tackle in North Fort Myers was satisfied with the extra one-year closure. “I think it’s great,” he said. “I think the decision was right.”

Westra said the fish kill of 2010 wiped out a good portion of fish in Pine Island Sound and wondered if the recent Tropical Storm Debby may have had an effect on spawning snook offshore. “The storm we had a week ago,” he said, “maybe it did some damage.” Westra said he knows tourists come to this area specifically for snook and could be disappointed with the closure. “If they just have to eat a snook, they can go over to the east coast,” he said.

Capt. Sandy Melvin, a charter captain from Gasparilla Outfitters in Boca Grande, also was good with the closure. “It is the right decision,” he said. “We need a solid year to help replenish the stocks.” He said his business could be hurt by the move, but that, in the end, it was a wise decision.

Meanwhile, Herman Smith at the Bait Box on Sanibel Island said he isn’t a fan of the extension. “I don’t know anybody who is pleased with the decision,” he said. “It should be repealed.” Smith said the decision does more to hurt snook by allowing fish in the slot — referring to the snook slot limit of 28 to 33 inches in Gulf of Mexico waters — to be eaten by other fish.

The decision came at the commission meeting June 28 in Palm Beach Gardens after FWC staff presented an updated stock assessment that showed snook populations are improving in the Atlantic and are not in biological jeopardy in the Gulf. The next assessment is due in 2015.

Snook are one of Florida’s premier game fish. “If we have a bad winter this year, we will benefit from this caution; if we don’t have a bad winter, we will let all these breeding fish come through the slot,” said Kenneth Wright, commission vice chairman, in a press release issued by the FWC. “We’ll really have done something good and we’ll have protected some of these fish.”

The recreational snook season was closed in Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic waters by executive order Jan.16, 2010, after the cold kill. The FWC manages snook in state and federal waters, although the species tends to inhabit the shallower, near-shore state waters. The effects of the cold kill were less severe on the Atlantic coast, where the normal season reopened for harvest Sept. 1, 2011.

The Gulf of Mexico recreational season, originally set to reopen Sept. 1, is now expected to reopen Sept. 1, 2013. Catch-and-release of snook will be allowed during the closure. In the Atlantic, the season will remain unchanged. Annual closures in the Atlantic are from Dec. 15 through Jan. 31 and from June 1 through Aug. 31. There is no commercial harvest for snook in Florida.