Snook fishing closed for one more year on Florida west coast

The harvest of snook on Florida’s west coast, including the Keys and Everglades National Park, will be closed for one more year. That’s the result of Thursday’s five-to-one vote by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission meeting in Palm Beach Gardens.

Commissioners rejected the recommendation of their staff that the Gulf snook harvest season re-open Sept. 1, following a 2 1/2-year closure by executive order following a massive cold-kill in early 2010. Staffers said a stock assessment showed the fishery had recovered enough since the freeze that rules implemented in 2007 — including a narrower slot limit and longer closed season — would promote rebuilding of the stock and protect young fish as well as large breeders.

But commissioners said they wanted to manage one of Florida’s premier inshore game fish with extra caution.

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

Commissioners decided to re-open the harvest season on Florida’s east coast as scheduled on Sept. 1. East coast snook came through the cold kill in much better shape than their Gulf coast cousins, and scientists say the east coast stock is doing fine.

The decision to extend the Gulf coast closure came after a couple dozen guides and anglers at the meeting spoke in favor.

“I can tell you, from my observations and many top snook guides, that there are almost no breeding snook over top of the slot,” said Gulf coast guide captain Dave Markett. “In places where they’ve aggregated 40 years, they do not exist.”

The lone dissenting vote was commissioner Aliese Priddy of Immokalee who said Gulf coast anglers had contacted her before the meeting, urging her to vote to re-open the season.

Commissioners said they would revisit the closure this time next year for a possible re-opening in September 2013.

In other action, commissioners decided to prohibit the harvest of deer in zone 4 of the Stairsteps unit of Big Cypress National Preserve during the 2012-13 hunting season. Hunters may take one deer in the rest of the Stairsteps. Deer counts have been very low in zone 4 for the past couple of years.

FWC executive director Nick Wiley told hunters his agency is in the “final steps” of approving a hunting management plan for the addition lands of the Big Cypress that may open the region to hunting this year. Wiley said initial hunts will probably be walk-in only, and implemented on short notice by executive order. A network of off-road vehicle trails into the addition is expected to come later.

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