FWC keeps snook-harvest ban in place

A state decision to keep Florida Keys snook harvests closed for another year likely will not draw much protest from local anglers.

“This doesn’t bother me a bit,” fishing guide George Clark of Rodeo Charters in Key Largo said Friday. “We need these snook stocks to get back to where they were.”

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted Thursday to extend a ban on harvesting snook in the Florida Keys, Florida Bay and Southwest Florida until September 2013 at the earliest.

“If we have a bad winter this year, we will benefit from this caution,” said FWC board member Kenneth Wright, who later was elected chairman by his colleagues.

“If we don’t have a bad winter, we will let all these breeding fish come through the slot,” Wright said. “We’ll really have done something good and we’ll have protected some of these fish.”

FWC staff recommended to commissioners that a ban on harvesting snook in South Florida — in place since the January 2010 cold snap killed untold numbers of the popular game fish — could expire Aug. 31 with no harm to the snook population recovery.

The daily one-fish limit of a legal-size snook would not harm the snook comeback, a staff report says. “Harvest has been prohibited for over two and a half years and extending the closure for one or two more years many not result in any great increase in stock size,” the report says.

Juvenile snook needed to replenish the population would be protected by the slot-size limit of 28 to 33 inches, according to staff.

Commissioners, with one dissenting vote, decided to retain the harvest ban after consideration at the Palm Beach Gardens meeting.

Catch-and-release fishing for snook is allowed during the closure. A state survey indicates that perhaps 90 percent of fishers always release snook, anyway.

“We’ve dealt with this situation for the last few years when there weren’t many snook around,” Clark said. “Personally, I’m just now starting to see numbers of the fish showing back up.”

Fishermen who want to bring dinner back to the dock can target populations of sea trout and redfish, which are showing a healthy rebound, the guide said. “There are a lot of other fish to keep.”

Snook, a hard-fighting fish that can be taken close to shore, has been off limits to commercial harvesters for decades. They are highly susceptible to temperature changes, and the Gulf of Mexico stock suffered heavily in the 2010 cold.

The Atlantic stock was not as damaged. Open-season harvests on the Atlantic side, north of the Monroe County line, were restored last year.

In other action at the FWC meeting:

  • The Miami blue butterfly was upgraded to “endangered” status on Florida’s list of protected species, to track the federal government’s April designation as endangered.

    The Miami blue, believed to have come extinct after Hurricane Andrew in 1992, was rediscovered years later in the Lower Keys. Now the species apparently exists only the Marquesas islands, part of the Key West National Wildlife Refuge.

    The FWC also approved a ban on collection of three similar species — the Cassius blue, Ceraunus blue and Nickerbean blue — to avoid any accidental take of the tiny Miami blue should it reappear elsewhere in South Florida.

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