The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 13 No. 45 - September 4, 2013

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West coast snook season reopening

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David Miller, of Cannons Marina, with a
slot snook before the 2010 freeze. Miller
was fishing with Captain Scott Moore.

Beginning Sept. 1, snook season will reopen on Florida’s west coast for the first time since a closure following the 2010 cold snap that decimated the species in many areas of the state. In general, snook fared better on the east coast due to their proximity to deep water, while they were devastated in areas like the Everglades backcountry. It appears that west coast populations have experienced a spotty recovery and to get an idea of how they have fared, I spoke to some of the area’s snook experts.

Captain Rick Grassett would just as soon see the season remain closed even though he believes that snook are in relatively good shape in our area. Grassett rarely kills snook. His conversations with anglers in the Tampa Bay region and the Charlotte Harbor area indicate that they think the season should remain closed.

According to Grassett, if it’s about having fish to eat, there are a lot of other fish available including trout, redfish, pompano and Spanish mackerel. Grassett does most of his snook fishing at night under the lights. The majority of these fish fall under the size required to keep, but even when his anglers do catch a keeper, they release them. Grassett believes if keeping the season closed longer will make the fishing even better, then that’s what should be done.

Rick Roberts, former head of the Snook and Gamefish Foundation, cautions against closures that cover large areas of the state. According to Robert’s research, areas of the southwest coast that have lost valuable nursery habitat have not rebounded as much as areas with lots of natural habitat. He believes closures should be more specific.

“We need more information on catches from anglers in specific areas,” says Roberts. “It seems to be a lot easier to complain than take action.”

Captain Ray Markham has fished the edges of Tampa Bay and its local bays for close to three decades and is dead set against the season reopening. According to Markham, his anglers are catching a paltry one tenth of the snook they did prior to the freeze. This tells Markham that the big breeders that were killed by the freeze are still impacting the fishery. He sees few large fish, and the ones they are catching seem to have been spawned since the freeze.

Captain Justin Moore probably spends more time on the water than any guide in Manatee County. Moore doesn’t think that snook have fully recovered ,even though they have started to make a comeback.

Said Moore, “My biggest concern is that the fish we’ll be taking (in the 28-33 inch slot) are the ones that are our breeding stock.”

He thinks that lowering the slot limit and having a shorter season would have been a better idea. In response to his concerns, Moore is only allowing two fish to be kept on his boat, regardless of the number of anglers. He indicated that this past season was the first time since the freeze that he’s seen schools of big fish in the passes. While he’s seeing big fish in some areas, in other parts of the bay he’s seen none where there have traditionally been fish.

He’s concerned that the number of anglers, the dissemination of knowledge and technology allow a lot more fish to be taken. He also noticed that he lost no customers when snook season was closed because there were lots of other fish to catch and eat. Moore also makes a point of not pushing the slot opting to keep only fish that approach 29 inches.

“Two fish that size are plenty of fish for people to take home to eat,” relates Moore.

Captain Scott Moore, the dean of Florida’s snook guides, also doesn’t agree with the opening. He thinks that snook stocks are still in bad shape even though there are definite signs of a recovery.

“I was disappointed that the state didn’t consider other options,” says Moore. “They could have reduced the open season and adjusted the slot limit or considered regional closures.”

He doesn’t think there’s any chance of a collapse, but points to the dangers of another freeze, especially to areas like Manatee County that are in the snook’s northern range.

The professionals who work local water are in agreement that snook stocks need to be protected to assure there will be an abundant population of snook for the future. You can be part of that process by the decisions you make this season. Snook season will be from Sept. 1 through the end of November. The slot limit is 28-33 inches with a bag limit of one (it was incorrectly stated as two in the print edition) fish per person. Good fishing!

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