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ASMFC evaluation of red drum stock raises questions


The long-awaited red drum stock assessment was presented to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) this week, and the initial results show cause for concern.

The Spawning Potential Ratio (SPR) for both the southern portion of the stock (Florida, Georgia and South Carolina) and the northern portion (North Carolina and points north) should be at least 30 percent.  This means the spawning stock for red drum must be at least 30 percent that of an unfished stock.  The estimates revealed this week indicate an SPR of 17 percent for the southern portion and just 9.1 percent for the northern portion.  Recreational anglers in several states along the Atlantic Coast have voiced concerns about the status of the red drum population, but these estimates, if correct, are alarming. They indicate stocks could be slipping below a level needed to maintain a healthy stock.

Read more: Atlantic red drum assessment cause for concern

The Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) and its Florida chapter, CCA Florida (CCAFL) have been successful for many years in efforts to preserve our marine resources, fisheries, and coastal habitats for future generations.  These activities have also accrued to the benefit of recreational anglers in Florida and throughout the country. Massive fresh water releases from Lake Okeechobee and run-off from the C-44 and C-43 basins into our estuaries have had a significant detrimental effect on the health of the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuary systems, while the Everglades and Florida Bay were deprived of much needed fresh water from an earlier drought.  Consequently, south Florida estuaries, river systems, the Everglades, and Florida Bay have been stressed beyond imagination and the state’s marine resources, fisheries, and all related industries are suffering. The current management strategy of Florida’s fresh water resources and Lake Okeechobee has stubbornly persisted for far too long.

CCAFL acknowledges:

In the summer of 2015, south Florida experienced a severe drought which negatively impacted Florida Bay.

In the dry season of 2015-16, south Florida experienced an unprecedented amount of rainfall throughout the system from the Kissimmee Valley to the Florida Keys.

There is no single cause or one easy fix to these problems.  All possible solutions are strategic, and will take several years.

Read more: Freshwater Discharge Management Issues

The future of recreational fishing in the Gulf of Mexico is for sale in Texas.

While charter boats and private recreational anglers in the Gulf were only allowed to catch red snapper in federal waters on 10 days last year, two companies in Galveston, Texas have been taking recreational anglers red snapper fishing all year round.

What's more, the companies allow the fishermen to keep as many red snapper as they want each day, blowing past the two-fish-per-day federal limit.

The only thing limiting how many snapper the customers are allowed to keep is how much they are willing to pay.

The Texas companies have been getting around the federal limits and seasons by selling the "Catch Shares Fishing Experience." The Texas companies involved own "catch shares" of the commercial red snapper fishery that allow them to harvest a set number of pounds per year for commercial sale.

Instead of catching those fish with a professional crew and selling them to a fish house, the captains are taking recreational anglers fishing and letting them buy the fish afterward.

For the customers, the catch share experience represents the ultimate fishing trip, where they can keep many more snapper than the two per person per day allowed under federal law. Meanwhile, the boat captains running the trips are able to market the fish as "fresh fish caught that day," which command a much higher price at the dock than most commercially caught snapper.

Read more: Texas charter captains use loophole to get around federal red snapper limits

In response to the massive fish kill in the Indian River Lagoon, the Brevard County Commission met yesterday to review a proposal to declare a state of emergency in the county. Frank Gidus, CCA Florida Director of Habitat and Environmental Restoration attended the meeting to determine where CCA can assist in the process.

The Brevard County commissioners rejected the resolution requesting Governor Rick Scott to declare a state of emergency in the county related to the recent Indian River Lagoon (IRL) fish kill and poor water quality. The commissioners instead passed a resolution (5 to 0) agreeing to send a letter to Rick Scott requesting that the following measures be taken:
  • asking for $200 million for muck dredging projects
  • assistance with streamlining the permitting process for muck removal and other environmental projects related to the IRL
  • waiver of the county's environmental permitting fees related to the IRL
  • the requirement for all septic tanks to be inspected when a house is sold, and
  • changing the existing law on the use of the county's tourist tax so that the county could increase the tax from the current 5 percent to 6 percent and use this money for IRL projects.

Read more: Brevard County requests money to help the IRL

CCA has been concerned about the declining health of the Indian River Lagoon (IRL) for many years. We understand that the health of the IRL did not degrade overnight and likewise will not be fixed overnight. We have been in contact with state and local officials, scientists, and stakeholders and will continue the dialogue and discussions indefinitely. CCA's recently hired staff scientist was invited onto the Indian River Lagoon Council Restoration Team and is actively engaged in working towards solutions.
The recent fish kills in the IRL are reportedly the worst ever seen by fishermen and residents.  In response to this, Brevard County Commissioner Trudie Infantini has proposed two resolutions concerning the water quality in the IRL. This Tuesday the Brevard County commissioners will consider the two resolutions which include Resolution "C" - declaring the IRL the highest priority, second to none, in Brevard County, and Resolution "D" - asking Governor Rick Scott to declare a state of emergency in Brevard County.

Read more: Concern Over Heatlh of Indian River Lagoon

We know many of you are frustrated and angry over the current state of some key estuary systems in South Florida. We realize how important these waters are to the Everglades complex, to our marine environment, and to our fisheries. CCA has been engaged on these issues for some years now. After record rainfall during this year's dry season, it is easy to conclude nothing is being done and no solutions appear to be in sight. Our river systems are being stressed beyond imagination and, most important, our fishing is lousy, especially in the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers, in the southern reaches of the Indian River Lagoon, and in Pine Island Sound.
CCA has employed a strategic approach to these problems. These endeavors will not yield measureable progress with any immediacy, especially given the complexity of our water management problems. Still, we strive. It is virtually impossible to re-engineer over a century of infrastructure projects which were driven by the conventional wisdom of the day. The Herbert Hoover Dike is here to stay, Alligator Alley and Tamiami Trail are immovable, modern-day thoroughfares, and the natural Lake Hicpochee headwaters of the Caloosahatchee River are a thing of the past.

Read more: Florida’s Water Quality - An Important Message to All CCA Florida Members:

Sportfishing is big business in Florida. More than 3 million people fish for fun here every year, and one out of every three of those anglers comes from out-of-state or out-of-country. Florida anglers support more than 80,000 jobs and generate $8.6 billion in economic activity, while boating industry generates another $2.3 billion in retail sales and directly employs another 40,000 people.

Anglers also make major contributions toward managing our natural resources. We are often the first to identify habitat and water quality issues, and it is our dollars that fund critical conservation efforts through excise taxes on fishing equipment and motorboat fuel. In Florida alone, anglers contribute nearly $40 million a year toward conservation and restoration efforts.

Read more: Sportfishing is big business in Florida

CCA Florida has been engaged in the discussions and efforts to find lasting solutions to the complex problems resulting from the heavy rain levels in South Florida, the discharges from Lake Okeechobee by the Army Corps, and impacts on the marine resources and wildlife, the potential for flooding, the risk of devastation on agricultural businesses, tourism, and a huge risk of major economic loss in Florida.
Last Friday, Governor Scott declared a State of Emergency in a three County area of South Florida and he warns of even greater destruction if the Hubert Hoover dam is not repaired. We will continue to be involved in the discussions regarding solutions at every level of local, regional, state and federal government. The emergency declaration is attached for your review and it demonstrates the serious nature and the complexity of this major and potential environmental and economic disaster if not corrected.

Read more: Governor Declares State of Emergency