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Story Tools

Date of Issue: April 23, 2008

Sandscript

Number stories mount, plus some manatee lacks

Counting things appears to confound even the best researchers and environmental regulators.

Take grouper, red and perhaps eventually gag, as an example, for the counting issue.

Red grouper catches reached huge levels a few years ago. It was as if the fish were just jumping in the boats of fishers, and the catch reached incredible totals. “Unsustainable fishing pressure” is the way Stephen Nohlgren of the St. Petersburg Times put it, just before fishery regulators decided to cut back on catches, citing overfishing.

What happened was fish regulators looked at the catch in the fishery and said, in essence, “Whoa! Overfishing is going on, the poundage of the catch is too great, and we need to look at this.”

So state and federal fishery folks did indeed look at the fish-catch matter and decided that there was some concern regarding potential overfishing. Red grouper landings were limited, both for commercial and recreation folks.

Gag grouper landing restrictions have also been proposed, but postponed to date.

And then science caught up with regulators.

Science has called it a baby boom of grouper of late. There have been lots of grouper caught because there were a lot of grouper to be caught. It’s not a decimation of the fishery by too many anglers going after too many fish, but a factor of a whole lot of fish out there to be caught.

Restrictions may be unneeded.

As the St. Petersburg Times reporter put it, fish counts are unprecedented in numbers.

Cause for the grouper baby boom? Perhaps that nasty red tide bloom in 2005, which as one diver and fisher put it, caused trout and snook to die, but left baby gags to flourish since nothing was out there to eat them.

Gags spawn offshore, and the little guys and gals eventually make their way to estuaries like Anna Maria Sound and Sarasota Bay, where they grow up and then eventually go back offshore. As part of the food chain, they are eaten by other critters but, if there aren’t any other critters to eat them and their food sources are good, there are a lot of them to move around and make more little grouper in a few years.

Remember in 2006 how huge the shrimp got in our bays? Most locals say the cause was that other critters were killed off in the red tide bloom and shrimp were allowed to flourish.

As a biologist from FMRI put it regarding grouper, “There’s no two ways about it. This is a strong showing. It’s consistent with the little gag grouper everybody is catching in the bay. Last year, we probably had a very good spawn. The fishery is about to explode.”

Let’s go fishing.

 

Count II

Manatee census numbers won’t be provided this year. There is an argument that the cause is global warming.

Counting manatees has been going on in Florida since 1991. Scientists take to the air and boats to determine a calculated estimate of the number of one of our favorite marine mammals in our coastal waters.

But this year was a bit different. It seems that the best way to count is when the skies are clear and temperatures are in the 50s. There also has to be about three days of such weather for a census.

Didn’t happen for 2008.

The manatee census is pretty much a guestimate of how many sea cows are out there anyway. Sure, some folks point to the big numbers for whatever their political reasons, and others point to the smaller numbers for other political reasons, but overall numbers are somewhere at about 3,700.

It’s still too few for the critters.

We’re a bit early for the migration from for their haunts around the power plant outflows and warm-water springs to our north, but for all you boaters out there, please be careful this summer and watch out for manatees.

Best ways to avoid those awful manatee-boat interactions: go slow and wear polarized sunglasses to see the gentle creatures as they creep through the water.

 

Uh, duh?

Back many, many years ago when I was a Little Roat, I agreed to go canoeing with a bunch of friends on the Flint River in Georgia. It was pretty much the trip from hell.

Weather in Florida at the time was balmy.

Weather in Georgia was chilly. Really chilly. So cold that while trying to keep warm, I set my shoes on fire at the campfire. I also made new friends in the tents that night, which wasn’t such a bad thing.

And then there was the final course of the river run, which we were told had only cost three people their lives in the last year or so through the category-three rapids. Did I mention that we went through that at dusk? Dark?

So in an effort to avoid such stupid adventures, the U.S. Coast Guard is urging canoeists and kayakers to be a bit more careful out on the water.

There have been a lot of problems of late from people on little vessels, most of whom must believe no training is required. No one has died, but it apparently isn’t from lack of trying.

Check weather conditions before you go out. I remember a wonderful, but somewhat frightening, canoe trip in Sarasota Bay when the fog closed in to the point that I could barely see my companion in the bow of the vessel. Bad move.

And here’s a good point from the Coast Guard Auxiliary: “Paddle craft operators are encouraged to get a free vessel safety check (yes, paddle craft are considered vessels, too, and are required by federal law to maintain specific safety equipment onboard).”

To have your canoe or kayak check, call Flotilla 81 at 941-758-5500.

And here’s a warning from the auxiliary. “As the number of people turning to manual-powered craft or paddle craft increases, so does the risk for novice or unprepared operators getting themselves into trouble,” the group says. “Three knots is the average speed for a kayaker. In the wrong place, where a river narrows or underwater features force waters to speed up or create towering waves, experience and preparedness, not muscle power, are what matter. The prepared kayaker will have a boat appropriate for the task, be wearing protective clothing and a lifejacket, be carrying safety and communication equipment, have the skills to re-enter and roll, and use good judgment tempered with an appraisal of objective and subjective factors. The experienced paddler should also be in the company of one or more people equally versed in reading the water and self-rescue.A completed float plan will also prepare those at home for an emergency.”

Good advise.

 

Sandscript factoid

China is counting on competing with the weather during the summer Olympic games in Beijing this year.

According to the Associated Press, Olympic officials and scientists say they will be able to either cause or cease rain during the ceremonies. The “cause” part is to drop the smog; the “cease” is to keep the outdoor activities going.

Apparently the Chinese government spends something like $100 million a year and has 50,000 people employed to deal with weather-management.

As the AP report states, “If rain threatens the opening or closing ceremony, Beijing officials say they will set up several banks of rocket launchers outside the city to seed threatening clouds and cause them to release the rain before it reaches the capital. China’s cloud-seeding weapons include 6,781 artillery guns and 4,110 rocket launchers.”

Now for the important question: Can we count on China to come to our aid to bomb Hurricane Brillo before it comes ashore on Anna Maria Island?

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