BRADENTON – More than 2,000 juvenile redfish and 31 hefty adults were released this morning in the waters of Robinson Preserve to restock the fishery, decimated by six months of red tide.
Local waters have been mostly free of the toxic algae for more than a month, making this a good time to maximize the survival of the gamefish, according to officials at the Crystal River Mariculture Center at Duke Energy, where the fish were raised.
The large, satellite-tagged fish were released one at a time, carried in bags by different participants in the project from the holding tanks to the center’s Rhett Gehring, who guided them gently into the water. Medium-sized fish were transported by hand in small tubes and released.
Juvenile fish had quite a different journey, pushed through a black pipe from the holding tanks to the water. They swim against the “current” inside the pipe during the transit so they are not banging against each other, Gehring said.
One last straggler in the holding tank was carried by hand to the water at the Robinson Preserve kayak launch.
A few dozen people watched the release at Robinson Preserve, a Manatee County park. Robinson’s waters are a healthy ecosystem with sheltered waters that are an excellent choice for the juvenile fish to mature, according to Melissa Nell, division manager of programming and education for the county Parks and Recreation Department.
More than 8,000 juvenile and adult redfish donated by the center already have been released in cooperation with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Coastal Conservation Association Florida in Sarasota, Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties. More releases are planned in Charlotte, Lee and Charlotte counties in March.
Duke Energy officials hope anglers will practice catch-and-release of the redfish, a popular gamefish.
“Duke Energy is committed to environmental stewardship,” Eric Latimer, Duke Energy Florida Mariculture Center manager, said in a press release. “Fish mortalities associated with the current red tide bloom in southwest Florida have broad impacts, both to our state’s interconnected biological systems and to the people that make a living from and enjoy our natural resources. We are proud to play a small part in the solution by restocking fish that will contribute to the overall restoration of the affected areas.”
“We’re all aware of the devastation the red tide has caused our fisheries and we’re thrilled to partner with Duke Energy for this amazing redfish stock enhancement initiative,” said Brian Gorski, CCA Florida executive director.
“We appreciate the valuable support from CCA Florida and Duke Energy in helping enhance our world-class redfish fishery,” Eric Sutton, FWC executive director, said in a press release. “This team effort will benefit conservation, outdoor recreation and the state’s economy in many ways.”
The FWC’s latest report shows background traces of red tide – a normal occurrence – statewide, but no discernable effects on people or marine life are predicted.
The bloom began in Southwest Florida waters in October 2017, reaching local waters in August 2018.