Reel Time: Release program promotes fishery recovery

Reel Time: Release program promotes fishery recovery
From left, fishing guides, including Captain Justin Moore and Captain Scott Moore, plus local politicians, CCA members and county officials joined in Tuesday’s release. - Rusty Chinnis | Sun

On Tuesday, Feb. 26, the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA), in conjunction with Duke Energy and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, released adult and juvenile redfish at Robinson Preserve in Manatee County. The redfish were donated by Duke Power and raised at its Mariculture Center in Crystal River, Fla. There are a number of releases scheduled in southwest Florida, which will include about 2,000 juvenile fish and 25 to 30 adult redfish per county, all of which will come from the Duke Energy Mariculture Center. In February, the group also released redfish in Pasco, Hillsborough, Pinellas and Sarasota counties.

Additional tentative release dates and locations include Lee County, March 12 at 11 a.m.; Tropical Point Park, 3401 Tropical Point Drive, St. James City, Fla.; Collier County, March 15 at 11 a.m.; Shell Island Boat Launch, 10 Shell Island Road, Naples, Fla.; Charlotte County, March 19 at 11 a.m.; and Ponce De Leon Park, 3400 Ponce de Leon Parkway, Punta Gorda, Fla.

Brian Gorski, CCA Florida executive director, weighed in on the effort. “We’re extremely excited to release these fish now that the waters are determined to be safe,” he said.  “Between these releases, encouraging anglers to catch-and-release and promoting conservation, we’re going to see this fishery improve and we’re honored to be a part of it.”

Catherine Stempien, Duke Energy Florida president, stated that “Duke Energy is committed to helping protect and preserve Florida’s natural environment.” She added, “Our Mariculture Center advances environmental stewardship throughout the state by partnering with state and local agencies and universities on restoration projects. The redfish we are donating will have long-term positive environmental impacts in the affected areas and we’re proud to play a small part in the solution to the recent red tide occurrence.”

Eric Sutton, FWC executive director, also was proud to be a partner. “We are thankful for the leadership and efforts of CCA and Duke Energy on making this redfish enhancement possible,” he said. “The efforts to help struggling fisheries in the aftermath of such an intense and devastating red tide is welcome, and anglers should do their part by adhering to the closure and respecting size and bag limits. They can go further by handling their catches responsibly and practicing catch and release after the closure is lifted. All the partners in the effort are to be commended for not only adding to depleted fish stocks but also raising awareness.”

The CCA has come a long way since it came into Florida as the FCA in the early 80s. In 1985, I joined a few local residents, including Captain Scott Moore, Captain Jim O’Neil, Pete Turner, Jim Knowles and Cindy McCartney, and met with Gulf Coast Conservation Association organizer Bruce Cartwright. That meeting of six concerned citizens led to the formation of the Manatee Chapter of the then-FCA. I attended the Manatee CCA Banquet last Thursday night at the Manatee County Convention Center, where more than 1,000 members and guests showed their support for fisheries conservation.

The exponential growth of an organization concerned with the health of our waters and fishery is a reason for optimism but points to a larger issue that can’t get lost in the media buzz of hatchery releases. If we truly want a healthy habitat and robust fishery we have to address the root of the problem. While it is often mentioned that the red tide is a natural occurrence, what you don’t hear is that the occurrence and severity of red tide are 15 times greater than it was 50 years ago. More often the natural occurrence storyline is parroted by groups, corporations and state agencies responsible for the increase of nutrients and lack of enforcement of common sense laws that help feed the red tide.

The most recent red tide event may have hopefully awakened citizens and lawmakers to the severity of the issue. A new state administration taking action is encouraging. While significant funds are becoming available to address the problem, as long as the emphasis is on mitigating and killing red tide instead of addressing point (sewage spills) and nonpoint (agricultural runoff) source pollution we’ll miss an important opportunity to begin taking effective action towards a lasting solution.

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Redfish released for red tide recovery

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