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Harvest in moderation could be beneficial to Florida’s snook stock

Anglers are anxiously waiting the arrival of Sept. 1 when Florida’s recreational snook harvest opens statewide. Plan ahead by purchasing a snook permit as well as a recreational saltwater license. Both are required to harvest snook unless the angler is exempt from having a license.

Snook can be tackle busters.
Snook can be tackle busters.
Capt. Pat Kelly

Many anglers already view the snook as a sport fish that deserves release. In fact, the fishery is already more than 90 percent catch-and-release. Nonetheless FWC encourages anglers to continue to use moderation when determining whether or not to take a snook home.

In light of the FWCs moderation position I asked Florida snook researcher Ron Taylor about the impact anglers could have by adopting the moderation principle. He began his explanation in terms of spawning potential ratio (SPR). The Commission’s management objective for snook is to maintain the spawning potential ratio (SPR) at or above 40%.

“In all the years we’ve kept up with snook and conducted stock assessments we never reached the SPR goal of 40%,” stated Taylor. “Along comes the freeze kill, we close the fishery for 4 years, and look what happens. The SPR is now at about 56%.”

Taylor explained that the secret is fishing mortality. Fishing mortality refers to the rate at which fish are removed from the stock by fishing. “The real secret is fishing mortality. We closed the fishery to harvest, but not to catch-and-release. An angler could still fish for them but he couldn’t harvest them during that 4-year period. There is the secret to how important release is.”

It is obvious that Taylor thinks anglers can have an impact on the stock by harvesting snook in moderation. “The secret is in the rate of fishing mortality. So, if you don’t absolutely need the snook you catch, release it. THAT RULE IS THE BEST WE GOT!!! (emphasis his).

Taylor also gave his thoughts on the upcoming snook season. “From all reports and catch indices from the Fisheries-Independent Monitoring program (FIM), the season is gonna’ be the best ever, except for 1997,” said Taylor. “I’ve had anglers in Tampa, Miami, Ft. Pierce and Everglades National Park tell me that there are more snook than they have ever seen. I can’t make it good or better, I can just repeat what I see and hear. The FIM seine catch per unit effort (CPUE) is higher than any year except 2009. So it looks to be a super year. Let’s see.”

Taylor urges anglers to abide by the rules. “You can harvest one a day if you want, so harvest one a day. Release anything over the slot. It’s the big girls that give us baby snook. Catch em’ up!!!have fun!!!”

If you do decide to release snook it is important to handle them with care to help ensure the species’ abundance for anglers today and generations to come.

To learn more about catch-and-release and the best way to handle a fish, visit MyFWC by clicking here.

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