By Brad Stager
Some of the most popular fish to catch and eat along the Southwest Florida coast may soon be back on the outdoor living menu.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) wants to hear from fishing enthusiasts about the next steps in managing snook, redfish and spotted seatrout, which are currently fished legally only on a catch-and-release basis.
The restrictions extend from the Hernando/Pasco County line south to Gordon Pass in Collier County and affect fishing in state and federal coastal water areas through Monday, May 31.
As the FWC looks beyond the expiration of the catch-and-release measures, it has been holding workshops in communities affected by them to find out from anglers how the fish are doing and to solicit ideas about how to protect them from excessive depopulation. FWC’s Southwest Region public information director, Melody Kilborn, said the input is an important part of the decision-making process.
“Public comments provided during the comment period will be used to help determine the future short-term management of redfish, snook and spotted seatrout in Southwest Florida immediately following the expiration of the fisheries closure FWC executive order on May 31,” she wrote in an email.
Implementing a catch-and-release policy is part of FWC’s response to the risk that the fish species were facing due to the presence of red tide from late 2017 through early 2019 that affected Southwest Florida’s Gulf Coast. State officials enacted the restrictions as a way to help regrow the species’ populations and fulfill its mission statement of “Managing fish and wildlife resources for their long-term well-being and the benefit of people.”
Red tides develop from large concentrations of algae that can discolor water to a reddish hue. The algae are harmful to marine life and can cause problems for people who inhale airborne organisms or eat contaminated seafood.
The workshop for residents of the Tampa Bay area and points north was held online on April 8. This and other workshops have been recorded and made available for viewing online for people who cannot attend the live webinars.