Will There Be A Next Snook Season?

Yesterday, my answer to that question would have been "of course". Today, after attending the MFC meeting at Burnt Store Marina in Punta Gorda, my reply would be, "probably, but probably not like there is now". It seems evident from the concerns of scientists and leaders in the recreational fishing industry, that some changes are going to be coming in the Snook regulations.

The meeting was attended by a large number of representatives of the recreational fishing community, including boat dealers, Guides, Captains, fishermen and members of the press, as well as Scientists from the DEP, and other fisheries agencies, the Florida Marine Patrol, and the MFC itself.

The actual Snook assessment included a number of scientific presentations, that show that while the Snook population in general is a fairly healthy one, some concerns exist about certain size fish notably missing from the population. Because of these concerns and others, reasons exist to explore Snook Management on a long term basis.

A Nice West Coast Snook -(underwater photography by Mike Lott) A forum is being set to present these concerns to the MFC, to include Press, Guides, Scientists, and others to discuss long term Snook planning. The meeting is tentatively set for October 13th and 14th. At this meeting alternatives will be explored, some of which could change Snook fishing a lot.

Some of the suggestions that will be considered include:

  1. Reducing the Bag limit to one fish per person, per day.
  2. Installing a boat limit, and prohibiting guides from keeping fish.
  3. Prohibiting live bait.
  4. Prohibiting Night fishing.
  5. An outright ban or moratorium on keeping any Snook for a period of 2 years.
  6. Prohibiting shore and bridge fishing.
  7. Prohibiting Catch and Release Tournaments.
  8. Exploring Reef fishing consequences.
  9. Prohibiting any fishing for Snook during closed seasons.
  10. Closures of Snook during the Month of May in addition to the current months.
  11. Prohibiting the keeping of any Snook over 32 inches.
  12. Requiring a tag for fish over 32 inches like Tarpon.
  13. Introducing a slot limit.
  14. Considering whether the current gene pool on the West Coast is causing long term size decreases.
  15. Other considerations to be presented at the meeting.

According to Tom Frazier, former Chairman of the MFC, the data the scientists are using is out of date, and the fishery is in a rapid decline in selected areas, such as Charlotte Harbor. This is due to the efforts to pass on the word that the fishery is healthy, and the effort having worked too well.

Guide Van Hubbard, of the Florida Guides Association said, "We have lots of small Snook, but we used to see schools of 100 Snook in the 17lb. range, and now we are lucky to see a school with 12 of those. Fishing pressure is up and the percentage of Snook over 24" is way down. The Florida Guides Association wants to see a reduction in the bag limit to 1 fish."

Captain Wade Osborne echoed the comments about smaller fish being caught, and applied them to Tampa Bay. Of the 18 speakers presenting comments to the MFC meeting, none recommended the status quo. No Scientist, Writer, Commissioner or Captain present took the position that current regulations are adequate to protect the Snook population, though the Captains were much more vocal that the present rules are not getting the job done.

Specificlly, according to the report by Robert G. Muller and Michael D. Murphy, of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the catch rates are down a bit on the West Coast, and the 24" to 30" Snook are in short supply. Most West Coast Snook are below 27".

On the East Coast, the common size is 30" to 32", the 24" to 30" population is missing there as well. Scientists believe that the West Coast fishing is recovering, (as of 1996), and the the East Coast is not in that recovery. (Again, as of 1996)

The reproduction rate was 36% on the West coast and 32% on the East Coast, as of 1995. The desired numbers for both coasts is 40%

Genetic studies by Scientists have concluded that the Snook on the Atlantic coast are a different species of fish, and are unique in all the fish studied from all parts of Florida, and the Caribbean. Recommendations were put forward to manage the East Coast Snook as a separate species of fish for management purposes. Fish in Florida Bay in the South end of the State may be an unknown quantity at this point of the study.

Captain Scott Rush of San Carlos Marine, got a chuckle from the crowd when he seemed to suggest the "Death Penalty" for keeping fish, but he was really talking about the death sentence on Snook. Capt. Scott challenges the 90% release figure put forth by the scientists, by pointing out the tremendous increase in sales of flats boats and business increases in Snook season.

Writer G.B. Knowles brought out that a few years ago, there were only 20 people in Manatee County that could catch Snook. Now there are 1,000. He also said that the historic illegal food harvest of Snook is largely due to the myth that Snook is a wonderful food fish, and that the mindset of the fishermen needs to be changed so that Snook are not thought of as groceries, but as trophies.

I recall that when Coors Beer was only available in Western States, it could fetch a premium price on the East Coast. Similar concept here?

John Scherer stated that he "remembers when he was one of 5 local fishermen who threw a castnet for bait to catch Snook. Now there are five local companies making castnets." To the MFC: "What you have here are people begging you for help to protect the Snook."

The plea for help was echoed by several Captains.

Guide Roger Harris blames "the reduction in Snook over 8 lbs on an increase in fishing skills and the publicity of formerly secret areas".

Capt. Pat Kelly, V.P. of the Florida Guides Association, said the problem is that "Snook can not hide from people anymore. You can go 5 miles into a remote area and find 16 boats casting nets for Snook bait. The Snook are not coming from anywhere else, but the human population keeps increasing."

It is obvious that these and other concerned individuals consider Snook to be precious trophies, and that some version of catch and release Snook fishing as practiced in Costa Rica can work here.

Mike Lott


Last Update: 03/18/99
Web Author: Mike Lott/Bruce Clark
Copyright 1997 by Sundance Software Technologies - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Photos Copyright 1997 by Michael B. Lott - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED