The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 10 No. 46 - August 18, 2010

reel time

Snook need continued protection

From the August 18, 2010 Issue
Reel time

Scott Swango and his son, Seth, from Springfield, Ill.,
with a snook caught and released while fishing
with Captain Rick Grassett.

Ask an angler from Alaska, or one who's going there, what the first fish that comes to mind is, and most will say salmon. Ask an angler the same question about Massachusetts and you'll hear stripers. In the Bahamas, the bonefish is the poster fish, as are permit in Belize. In Florida, a state blessed with a plethora of species to choose from, the snook is the undisputed leader, despite the fact that their range isn't statewide.

No angler or scientist disputes the fact that this past year's freeze decimated snook in historical proportions. The question is should the closed season, which was extended through the summer, be kept closed or reopened this fall? Chairman Rodney Barreto and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission decided on Aug. 5 that the emergency closure will remain in effect until at least Sept. 16. The commissioners will meet again Sept. 1 to 3 to decide if there should be a fall snook season this year, or if the closure should continue through fall, into next spring or indefinitely.

According to Barreto, "We took immediate action to prohibit harvest of snook as a proactive, precautionary response to the freeze. We want to make sure that if we reopen the fishery, we will be able to do it knowing the snook population is secure and will continue to rebound from the effects of that unprecedented cold snap."

I'm no scientist, and while we definitely need scientific evidence to support an opening or closure, when I need confirmation, I go to the fishing guides who target snook for a living. These professionals, some of whom spend 275 days a year on the water, know better than anyone the state of snook populations. I trust their judgment to back up my usually conservative approach. When I talked to Captain Ray Markham, Captain Scott Moore and Captain Rick Grassett, I got a consensus that the season should remain closed.

According to Markham, who fishes the edges of Tampa Bay near Terra Ceia Bay, "I formulate my opinion based not only on my own fishing, but also on results of others around ... and I don't necessarily mean just around here ... but up and down the coast as well as on the east coast.

"If I were to base it simply on what I have seen here, in what Ron Taylor used to call one of the top nursery areas for snook in the state, I would say close it down! Leave it closed for a period of 3 to 4 years and re-examine it at that point with a guaranteed reopen date unless the science says that the fish have not recovered their numbers.

By now, anglers aboard my boat should have caught in the neighborhood of 500 to 1,000 snook. We have caught five! It's not like I don't know where they traditionally live, but there are just not the numbers we had prior to the freeze. For me, seeing is believing. I fished the East Coast at the DOA Lure Guides and Writers Outing recently and we caught a respectable number of snook ... about a dozen or so.

If there were to be any differentiation between East and West, perhaps they could leave it open there and close it here, but there again, you'll be transferring the effort to catch snook from the west to the east, so I just say close it."

Captain Scott Moore agrees. "I have been fishing for snook on this coast for 50 years, and I can tell you last year's freeze killed more snook than all the freezes in those 50 years,” Moore said. “I hope they keep the season closed for at least one more year.

"People should refrain from catching and eating snook for one more year. There are plenty of other species to be targeted for food. Anglers should also make sure they buy a snook stamp. The funds support research on the snook."

Captain Rick Grassett made the sentiment unanimous. “I think continuing the closure for snook through the fall, or longer if necessary, would be a good thing for the health of our snook fishery. After the extended freeze and resulting kill in many areas of Florida in January 2010, snook could use a break.

"I encourage catch and release fishing on my boat, particularly for snook, and most anglers are supportive of that. However, there is a lot of pressure on snook when the season is open, so leaving it closed should help. Our FWC should be applauded for taking a proactive approach on this issue.”

Rick Roberts, executive director of the Snook Foundation, summed it up. "I'm hearing all kinds of opinions on the snook closure,” he said. “They seem to run the gamut from leaving it closed indefinitely to re-opening it immediately.

"I continue to believe that fishery management decisions need to be left to good science, and not anecdotal evidence. I hope that this is the way the issue is handled."

Roberts is right, but until the science is in, I'll defer to the professionals who make their living on the water. The consensus: keep the snook season closed.

AMISUN ~ The Island's Award-Winning Newspaper