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Story Tools

Date of Issue: January 18, 2007

Sandscript

Fish stories: Call it the tale of the scale in Florida

Looking for the freshest grouper? The area of the state that hosts the largest number of blue crabs? The most succulent shrimp?

The areas where the largest number of a particular species are landed may not be where you would think.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has released preliminary landing data for 2006. The figures include county-by-county harvest results.

Manatee County takes top honors in one category: bait fish. We had 1,013,180 pounds of bait come across the commercial docks last year. Brevard County, on the east coast, was a distant second with 52,025 pounds.

Red grouper, that restaurant mainstay that you would have expected the Cortez fishers to take the lead on? Wrong again - Manatee came in a distant second to Pinellas County in the grouper grab. Our neighbor to the north hauled in a whopping 2,166,708 pounds of the tasty fish, compared to our fisheries "paltry" 537,573 pounds.

And when it comes to black mullet, the fish that made Cortez great, Manatee County isn't even in the running. Look to Lee County for the biggest catch for the bottom feeder, at 580,738 pounds, followed by Charlotte County just to our south with 277,630 pounds. We saw 105,417 pounds of mullet go on ice here.

There were some surprises in the catch data.

Manatee County leads the state in ladyfish take at 261,689 pounds. Walter Bell of Bell Fish Co. in Cortez said that ladyfish is used to make fish cakes, and is generally shipped to California or Hawaii.

Another big winner in the fish harvest on an unlikely species is Palm Beach County, which at 1,003,287 pounds leads the state in king mackerel catches.

Sharks? You probably thought some place like the Keys or an Atlantic Coast county would have the most catches, and you'd be wrong. Franklin County, in the Panhandle, is the shark capital of the Sunshine State with 389,830 pounds of the big, toothy critter brought ashore last year.

Since Apalachicola is also in Franklin County, it's no surprise that it also leads the state with 1,483,230 pounds of oysters.

Also not surprising is Monroe County, with the Florida Keys dangling off its coast, as the No. 1 place in the state to catch spiny lobster. Fishers there took in 2,892,401 pounds in 2006.

But the Florida Keys isn't the state leader when it comes to pink shrimp, a delicacy. Bubba Gump would do better to fish off Hillsborough County to take part in the 1,070,956-pound catch, although Monroe is a close second with 1,015,620 pounds.

The Florida Panhandle is the place for blue crabs, too, with Wakulla County harvesting 1,486,991 pounds of the little snapping critters. Citrus County, north of us a bit, is second in blue crab harvesting at 670,799 pounds.

Monroe County leads in stone crab claw take, at 465,734 pounds. Manatee, by comparison, hauled 33,650 pounds out of the traps last year.

All in all, there's lots of good eating coming ashore off Florida's coasts.

 

Snook comment welcome

FWC officials want to hear from us regarding whether or not further restrictions on snook fishing should be imposed in the state.

"A recent FWC stock assessment for snook concluded the management goal of a 40 percent spawning-potential ratio established for this fishery is not being met, and increasing fishing effort is contributing to the declining rate," according to state officials. Spawning-potential ratio is "the ratio of the egg production of mature fish in a fished population to the egg production that would exist if the population was not fished," they explain.

FWC is holding several workshops in the next few weeks to "review the commission's recent snook stock assessment and consider recommendations that include narrowing the current 27-34 inch slot limit, changing the closed seasons and reducing the Atlantic coast daily bag limit from two fish per day to one fish."

The nearest workshop for Islanders will be held from 6-8 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 23, at the FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, 100 Eighth Ave. S.E., KAS Auditorium, St. Petersburg.

A decision on any changes will probably be made later this year.

Don't complain after the fact about any rule changes - say your piece now before state officials take action.

 

Hot fish, dead fish

Global warming is apparently to blame for yet another decline of a species. In this instance, it's a fish in the northern Atlantic Ocean that can't get its heart to pump oxygen-rich blood fast enough to keep it alive.

Scientists have found that populations of the viviparous eelpout Zoarces viviparus, a fish that lives in the northern Wadden Sea, "crashed" when water temperatures warmed last year. Apparently, according to the researchers, "the animals' cardiovascular systems were working at the limits of their comfort zone," in the hotter-than-normal water, according to a report in the journal Nature. "As the fishes' metabolism speeds up in higher temperatures, they need more oxygen, but their hearts can't pump fast enough to provide it."

Scientists call that temperature zone a thermal window. The eelpout are reaching that window, and can't make it. Since the fish don't move around much, they apparently can't get it into their little fishy brains to seek out cooler water to the north, so they croak.

"The eelpout will need to shift their thermal window if they are to survive the higher temperatures of their habitat," according to the biologists, "but there is no sign of that happening. They may be able to adapt over long times but the current speed of global warming won't allow that."

We had a similar instance of a species' crash a few years ago. Abnormally cold weather dropped the water temperature in the bays, and hundreds of snook perished. It seems the reverse is holding true for other species that just can't take the heat.

 

Thinking ahead

There appears to be some reasoned, thoughtful discussions ongoing at the bottom of the planet between environmentalists, scientists and fishers to work out a solution acceptable to all.

An anchovy fishery has been built off Patagonia, in the southern Pacific Ocean not far from Antarctica. It's been in operation for a few years, and is relatively small with an annual harvest of 30,000 tons of the small fish. At least, by anchovy fishery standards, that's small.

However, there are plans to expand the plant and increase the harvest of the little oily fish. Anchovies are found in more than Caesar salads and an occasional pizza, by the way; they're an important stock of fish farms worldwide.

The problem is that the anchovies are a link at the bottom of a pretty complex food chain. The fish processing plant, and the harvesting of the fish, are right next to the  largest colony of Magellanic penguins in the world. The fish is the principal food source for the birds, and the fear is that if the annual take of fish gets too large, it could dramatically impact the birds. "Dramatic," in this instance, means kill them off.

There is some precedent in this matter, according to the journal Nature.

A fish similar to cod, called hake, was a popular catch off Argentina about 20 years ago. The demand increased, the fishery for hake expanded, and pretty soon the hake fishery was declared to be in a state of emergency. While the government dithered, the stocks eventually crashed, a total moratorium on fishing was proclaimed somewhat after the fact, and fishers were put out of business.

Everyone agrees that the fate of the hake fishery should not be repeated with anchovies, and talks are under way now to work out some realistic levels of catch that all can agree upon.

Let's hope some penguins are also invited to the bargaining table.

 

Sandscript factoid

And in final outright ban news, San Francisco and Oakland officials have outlawed the use of Styrofoam in all establishments that serve food in those cities.

Polystyrene foam has a half-life of something like 100 zillion years, which means that it will probably outlast diamonds as far as history is concerned. It just doesn't seem to degrade, and since it's virtually weightless, it blows everywhere. It also causes serious problems for marine critters if injected.

In an effort to get the nasty stuff off the menu, the California cities' ban carries a hefty fine for food venders who use Styrofoam. Let's hope some of our elected officials follow the practice in our waterfront environment.

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