Cold weather impacts local snookFrom the January 13, 2010 Issue
already has died (bottom center) while
another sluggishly swims in a canal
in Holmes Beach.
When I first started to write this column it was 1 p.m. on Saturday, and the outside temperature on the Island was 39 degrees. I had just gotten off the phone with Anna Maria’s Captain Scott Moore, who was the first angler last week to raise the possibility of a problem with snook mortality during the upcoming arctic blast. When I spoke to him at noon on Saturday he reported that snook were still swimming in his canal and not showing any overt signs of being in trouble.
“I hope that the fact that the cold weather came gradually might help the snook winterize,” he had said. He had measured the water temperature in his canal for the prior four days and it had averaged between 49 and 54 degrees.
When I talked to Moore on Sunday afternoon things had gotten much worse. Both Moore and I had inspected basins and canals from north Longboat to Holmes Beach and as far east as Sneed Island and about half the snook we observed were dead. Many more seemed stressed, some swimming on their sides. On Sunday at 2:27 pm his canal registered 45 degrees. With the temperature hovering at 45 degrees and a predicted low of 28 overnight, this is stacking up to be one of the worst winter snook kills in decades.
I’ve lived here for close to 30 years, and while I’ve seen colder days, albeit very few, there has never been a stretch of cold weather as long as this. It’s a reminder that survival in the world of our saltwater snook is tenuous and something we should keep in mind on those mild days when winter seems a long way away. The good news is that this species has survived and evolved over millions of years and learned to flourish despite freezes, red tides, overfishing, a decrease in habitat and water quality. It makes me appreciate them a whole lot more.
The Florida Guides Association (www.florida-guides.com) offers this advice for anglers who encounter cold-killed or cold-affected snook. "First, please do not disturb snook affected by the cold. Expect to see snook bunched up in deep water anywhere water temperatures are warmer. In colder water they may be lethargic, float close to the surface or even appear dead, lying on their side or back. It's best to leave them undisturbed because even a snook that appears dead may revive if the temperature rises enough."
If you see cold-killed snook, please record the date, time, GPS coordinates if possible, number and size of fish and conditions observed. Rick Roberts of the Snook Foundation urges anglers to report cold-shocked snook by contacting him at 407- 417-0701 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
I spoke with Roberts on Sunday afternoon and according to the reports he was getting from around the state, he believes this cold weather will be a historical event. Historical records show that snook that are exposed to water that is consistently below 50 will die. Fortunately, groups of fish know to hunt out areas where they can survive this kind of event. Some fish have been found offshore in 60 to 80 feet of water where the temperature hovers near 60 degrees. Others mass around warm water outflows from power plants. Roberts advises anglers to remember that the snook that do survive experience stress that is damaging and it will take awhile for them to fully recover. The Snook Foundation is a great advocate for snook. Check out their Web site at www.snookfoundation.org.
Anglers also can report dead snook to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission by using the FWC's online fish kill form (research.myfwc.com/fish kill/submit.asp). For on-the-water reporting, call FWC snook specialist Ron Taylor at 727-896-8626, ext. 1510.
I spoke to Taylor on Sunday and he indicated he was getting reports that lead him to believe the kill might be as bad as, or worse, than the freeze in 1977. That freeze was estimated to have killed in excess of 600,000 snook statewide. All we can do is hope for the best and remember that the snook we catch this spring and summer might still be stressed from this winter’s freeze.