Florida game commissioners extend snook, redfish closures as red tide lingers along coast
State fisheries managers voted earlier this week to keep closed the snook and redfish seasons in much of Southwest Florida for another year.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted to extend the harvest ban for the two prized species through May of 2022.
“The commission understands the significance and importance of this fishery for the southwest region," FWC vice chair Mike Sole said during the meeting. "You can hear a lot of diversity in the public stakeholder positions on this issue, but I think we found the right path as an interim step. It is going to be important though, in my opinion, to consider long-term management of snook and redfish.”
The ban is in place for waters from Sarasota Bay south to Gordon Pass in Collier County.
The harvesting of spotted sea trout will be allowed again on June 1.
Snook, redfish and sea trout are among Florida's most popular gamefish, so much so that catching all three on the same day is known as an "Inshore Slam" among avid anglers.
Trout are the most prolific of the three, and the least valued among most sports fishermen as they are typically widely available and easier to lure.
Redfish are a highly prized species and often are the target of local and regional coastal fishing tournaments.
Snook are the most fragile of the three as they are a warm-water fish found mostly in tropical waters.
Many guides and bait shop owners were glad that commissioners went with a conservative approach to reopening the fisheries.
"I thought snook and redfish should have another year to recover," said Sarasota Bay Fishing Charters owner Tony Blizzard. " And I thought trout should go to a reduced limit, and I was lucky because that's exactly what happened."
Blizzard said he's been targeting species like mangrove snapper and other edible fish that aren't considered prime gamefish.
But the trout fishing is picking up, he said.
"We've had a lot of good trout fishing and some days we can get out and catch six fish over 20 inches," Blizzard said.
He said fishing in general has been relatively poor since the notorious 2018 bloom.
"A lot of the species have not been biting like they were before the red tide, and a lot of spots that held fish don't hold them anymore," he said. "I've had to find new spots since that bloom."
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Dave Westra is the owner of Lehr's Economy Tackle in North Fort Myers and said he and many of the anglers he's spoken with agreed with FWC's decision.
"I think most of our anglers are fine with that," Westra said. "The one fish I would have opened, given the conditions, would be sea trout. They seem to be reasonably numerous, and anglers are catching big ones now."
Westra said the fisheries are too vulnerable and valuable to risk with a red tide bloom lingering along the coast.
A red tide bloom that crested in the summer of 2018 killed hundreds of tons of marine life in Lee County alone, and gamefish like snook and redfish were among the hardest-hit.
"I understand the visitor dynamic and visitors wanting to come down and keep something, and I'm not against that," Westra said. "But with red tide inshore and pods offshore and high volumes of nutrient-loaded water coming down the Caloosahatchee, you can't be too conservative."
These gamefish gather near local beaches and in passes to spawn during the warmer summer months.
Having a red tide bloom during the summer means the oldest and healthiest adults are exposed to toxic conditions.
Strong blooms can kill the breeding population and their spawn, crippling the local fishery.
"If we allow these spawning populations to go offshore, if they get into the red tide, we're going to have a fish kill like we had in 2018," Westra said.
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