Snook-harvest ban likely to be lifted

A two-year ban on keeping a snook caught in Florida Keys waters could end Sept. 1.

An executive order issued by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in January 2010 banned the harvest of all snook to allow the fishery to recover after a deadly cold snap. That ban, still in effect for the Gulf of Mexico and the Florida Keys, is scheduled to expire Aug. 31 unless extended by the FWC board.

FWC researchers will recommend to the agency board at its June 28 meeting that the ban should end.
The Gulf Coast stock of snook, which suffered more severely than the Atlantic stock in the 2010 cold, apparently has recovered to a point where the daily one-fish limit of a legal-size snook will not harm the ongoing recovery, 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 are protected by the minimum-size limit.

It may take five more years without any additional weather problems to restore the Gulf stock, the report says. Many anglers — up to 90 percent, according to one survey — release all snook alive even without a harvest ban.

Before the January 2010 cold, one legal-size snook could be harvested per day by recreational anglers (commercial fishing for snook has been banned for decades).

Closed seasons for snook in the Keys would revert to the periods of December through February, and May through August.

Regular snook seasons were opened in the Atlantic north of the Monroe County line last fall.
In other issues of local interest at the June 27 and 28 FWC meeting in West Palm Beach, the board will hear results of a five-year assessment of fish populations in the Dry Tortugas Ecological Reserve, within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Monroe County’s draft ordinance on new managed anchoring areas, which must be approved by the FWC, is not expected to be heard this month.

State staff must finish its review of the Monroe County plan for a pilot anchoring program and take public comments. The ordinance could reach the FWC for its September meeting.

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