Snook: Take or leave it

After being closed for three years, starting Sunday anglers in the Florida Keys and Everglades will be able to keep a limited amount of snook they catch.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced this week the reopening of the recreational harvest of one of Florida’s premier game fish. Anglers are allowed to keep one snook per day, FWC spokeswoman Amanda Nalley said.

While the fishery is more than 90 percent catch-and-release, the FWC encourages anglers to use moderation when determining whether or not to take a snook home.

The fishery has been closed since a mass snook die-off in the 2010 winter cold snap.

Gulf snook numbers currently exceed FWC’s management goals but are still rebuilding, Nalley said.

FWC recommends anglers practice proper handling techniques, which it lists at MyFWC.com/Fishing. Click on Saltwater, then Recreational Regulations.

In Atlantic Ocean waters, only snook 28 to 32 inches long can be taken, according to the FWC. In the Gulf of Mexico, it’s 28 to 33 inches total length.

Snook season will close Dec. 1 in Monroe County, Everglades National Park and Gulf waters; it will close Dec. 15 in Atlantic Ocean and federal waters, including Lake Okeechobee and the Kissimmee River.

A snook permit as well as a recreational saltwater license is required. Snagging and spearing snook is prohibited. It is also illegal to buy or sell snook.

Following the 2010 cold snap, anglers began working more with FWC, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other science agencies on collecting data on the species.

Anglers played a key role in the FWC’s 2011 and 2012 snook stock assessments.

“It was not that we were in a panic, but we didn’t have enough data to know how bad it was,” Snook and Gamefish Foundation Executive Director Brett Fitzgerald said. “So many people were concerned about the cold snap that anglers logged thousands of hours of fishing data.

“The silver lining is that there is now a data set and we (anglers) are part of the stock assessment.”

The FWC is now working with the Snook and Gamefish Foundation, which created a phone app and Web page to make it easier for anglers to log snook data, Fitzgerald said. Anglers may report their catch at Snookfoundation.org; click on the Angler Action link.

Researchers also ask anglers who harvest the fish to save their filleted carcasses and drop them off at a participating bait and tackle store.

For the county-by-county list of participating stores, go to MyFWC.com/Research and click on Saltwater, Saltwater Fish, Snook, and Snook Anglers Asked to Help with Research.

The size, age, maturity and sex of the catch is important to assess the snook stock, FWC officials said.

To report snook fishery violations, call the Wildlife Alert Program at 888-404-FWCC (3922).

tohara@keysnews.com

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