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August 5, 2013

Obstacles Facing Florida’s Anglers

Saltwater fishing in Florida is surprisingly good in spite of all of the obstacles anglers face.

Bureaucrats at all levels of government do their best to make things tough for fishermen. From increased fees for citizens to launch their boats at public ramps, regulations that are either too restrictive or too lax, and to environmental issues that are overblown or ignored.

I’ve been covering the outdoors in South Florida for more than 20 years for the Sun Sentinel newspaper in Fort Lauderdale. Some fishing has improved dramatically since I arrived from upstate New York, while fishing for other species has suffered.

One constant during that time: recreational anglers rarely get any credit for the good stuff, but they almost always get the blame for the bad stuff.

For example, the quality of South Florida’s coral reefs has declined, in large part due to pollution and poor water quality. Yet recreational anglers and scuba divers get almost all the blame from agencies and groups that are in favor of marine protected areas, or MPAs, which would keep people out. There is no talk of having Florida’s water management districts limit the amount of polluted freshwater they let loose during and after heavy rainstorms and hurricanes. Much of that water in South Florida goes out to inlets, which hurts reefs and everything that depends on them.

An even worse situation is currently taking place in Stuart, where two of the best inshore fisheries in the state, the St. Lucie River and the Indian River, have been plagued by nasty freshwater being released from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie.

Before a dike was built around the lake, and what used to be the northern Everglades was converted into farmland, when the lake got high, the water overflowed and gently seeped to the south.

Now when the water gets high in Lake Okeechobee – much of it coming from Orlando after a rain event and flowing south through the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes and the Kissimmee River into the northern end of the lake – the South Florida Water Management District sends it southeast to Stuart and southwest down the Caloosahatchee River to Fort Myers rather than letting it flow south and impacting sugar cane and vegetable growers.

The dirty water has negatively impacted seagrass, fish and fishing, yet the state allows it to continue, essentially saying that it has no other choice.

Poor water quality that affects coral, sea grass and fish populations also is an issue in Biscayne Bay and Florida Bay, parts of which are in national parks and under federal jurisdiction. The feds’ reponse? Limit boaters and anglers.

Then there is the problem of lionfish. Some of these aquarium fish were dumped in the ocean off South Florida in the mid-1980s. Now the invasive fish, which are native to the South Pacific and Indian Ocean, are everywhere: on reefs, in the Atlantic Ocean as deep as 1,000 feet, the Loxahatchee River, Indian River, and Florida Bay.

Lionfish eat the young of important native species such as snappers and hogfish and have no predators. Divers have been taking it upon themselves to kill as many lionfish as they can while fisheries managers contemplate what to do. Unless they take decisive action, lionfish will eventually decimate recreational fish species in Florida.

 

About Steve Waters

Steve Waters has been the outdoors writer for the Sun Sentinel since August of 1990. He got his start in journalism in Charleston, S.C., where he was a sportswriter and covered sailing. In his spare time, he fished for striped bass on the famed Santee-Cooper lakes with one of the high school football coaches he knew and later bought a bass boat so he could fish there on his own. When his sports editor at his next paper, The Tuscaloosa News, found out he had a boat, he asked him if he wanted to cover the outdoors in addition to covering the Crimson Tide. It wasn’t long before Waters realized that writing about fishing was way more fun than covering Alabama football. He went on to cover the outdoors for two more newspapers and a TV station, as well as sports ranging from golf and baseball to NASCAR and the NHL, before writing full-time about fishing, boating, sailing, diving, hunting, powerboat racing and environmental issues for the Sun Sentinel.

Copyright © 2013, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

 

 

2 Responses to “Obstacles Facing Florida’s Anglers”

    • Thank you for asking that important question. Healthy habitats and water quality top the list of priorities for the TRCP and its sportfishing partners. Those subjects were discussed at length at each of the five workshops we organized in May to discuss priorities for investment of oil spill recovery funds throughout the Gulf. Participants in the St. Petersburg workshop on May 1st recommended better storm water management and the restoration of both near shore and deep water corals. Those recommendations will be part of a report produced by the TRCP this fall outlining recommendations by the Gulf’s recreational fishing community for projects and initiatives to help restore, enhance and sustain recreational fishing in the region. Conservationists in each of the Gulf States need to reach out to their local and state officials and emphasize the importance of investing oil spill fines in habitat improvements and better science and data. The point that wise investments in Gulf ecosystems ensures economic health must be emphasized repeatedly by sportfishermen as fines become available to state and local governments.

      The TRCP is also working with its sportfishing partners to make sure anglers have access to as much quality fishing opportunities as possible. The vast majority of recreational fishermen are very conservation minded and try to minimize their impacts on the ecosystems where they fish. That must be emphasized and demonstrated to the state and federal agencies aiming to establish marine protected areas. By educating more anglers to be wise stewards of the resource, the TRCP and its sportfishing partners believe recreational opportunities can continue throughout America’s coastal waters.

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August 2, 2013

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July 31, 2013

Fishy Business: Debates over Bluefin Tuna at ICCAT Annual Meeting

A School bluefin taken off Long Island with Capt. Chris Hessert of Manhattan Fly

Well it must be summer time, which is hard to tell by the current weather. Rain, rain, and more rain. It must be summer because the different sides are turning up the rhetoric for the annual debate on bluefin tuna. The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) will be meeting in November, and the U.S. delegation is beginning to craft its position to take to the annual meeting.

The harvesting side of the resource users would like to see the quotas increased as, in their opinion, the western Atlantic stock is in reasonable shape and those who have sacrificed for so many years should get some benefit from that sacrifice. The other side says that the stocks are still at historic lows and need more protection if they are ever to recover. How can there be such a difference? It boils down to three differences of opinion in what is the “best available science”; recruitment age at sexual maturity; and one stock or two for management purposes.

Recruitment

The first is the question of recruitment and what is the correct recruitment scenario. Harvesters support a low recruitment scenario which, if correct, says that changes have altered the ability of these fish to reproduce at the levels they once did. This decrease in reproductive capacity means that the spawning stock biomass will never reach the size it used to be, so cutting quotas will not make any difference. The more conservative side supports the high recruitment theory which says that the stocks can recover to historic highs and that quotas should be cut in order to achieve these levels. There are some very well known scientists that support both sides of the question. I wish I thought that ICCAT could be the arbiter of this question, but it is highly likely they would support the harvesters.

Age

The next issue is the age at which bluefins reach sexual maturity. In the western  Atlantic it has been thought that sexual maturity was later than in the eastern stocks. If they reach sexual maturity earlier, then the fish add to the overall population sooner. Harvesters support the younger age at maturity. Those who are conservation minded do not.

Different Stocks

The last item is the concept of two distinct stocks, western and eastern. Some believe that they should be managed as one stock. Managing as one stock is less conservative for the western North Atlantic stock, and those who want to increase the quota embrace that concept.

So, on goes the argument as to whose science is the “best available.” If this argument about science does not make you nervous, then this should: ten northeast Senators and Congressmen are adding their “expertise” to the science debate by requesting a specific action from the head of the U.S. Delegation to ICCAT. These are the same members of Congress who cannot get the important issues resolved for our country, and now they are experts in fisheries matters. Yikes, I don’t know about you, but that makes me very nervous. Stand by and we’ll see where this one goes.

Further info:

Read the letter from 10 Members of Congress to Russell Smith, Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Fisheries and US Delegate to ICCAT

Read the letter from the Pew Charitable Trusts to ICCAT

Read the Pew document, “The Best Available Science on Western Atlantic Bluefin Tuna”

Read “Response to PEW factsheet on ‘The Best Available Science on Western Atlantic Bluefin Tuna'”

 

“Rip” Cunningham, who got the nickname in infancy when he tore up everything in his crib, has applied the same energy to his work at Salt Water Sportsman. An accomplished writer and photographer, Cunningham has received several awards from the Outdoor Writers Association of America. His work has appeared in such magazines as Field and Stream, Rod and Reel, Gray’s Sporting Journal and Australian Boating. Among his many accomplishments, Rip was recognized as the Conservationist of the Year from both the International Game Fish Association and the Coastal Conservation Association of Massachusetts. “I’ve earned a living from fishing, and I believe strongly that people with an interest in a given area should give something back,” he says. “It’s rewarding every single day.” Cunningham received his MBA from Babson College in Wellesley, MA and his BA from Rollins College in Winter Park, FL. He has two grown children and four grand children and lives with his wife and hunting dog, Rocket, in Dover, MA and Yarmouth, ME. When he’s not fishing or working through the items on his wife’s “honey-do” list, Cunningham does some hunting, fishing, and skiing.

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July 29, 2013

Balancing Energy Development With Fish and Wildlife Habitat

State and federal public lands hold some of the most productive fish and wildlife habitat in the country and are vital to meeting our country’s energy needs.

  • Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development is a coalition led by the TRCP, the National Wildlife Federation and Trout Unlimited that is dedicated to conserving irreplaceable habitats so future generations can hunt and fish on America’s public lands.
  • A 2012 SFRED study found that from 1969 to 2009, the top 50 counties in the Rocky Mountain West region that contained the highest percentage of land managed for conservation had higher per capita income, higher population growth and higher total employment compared to the 50 counties with lands managed more for intensive energy development.
  • SFRED works to ensure that our nation’s economic portfolio is considers the responsible development of energy resources as well as the $821 billion annual outdoor recreation economy.

Learn more about the TRCP’s work to ensure responsible energy development.

Read the TRCP’s FACTS for Fish and Wildlife.

The TRCP and our partners are working to ensure energy development is balanced with the needs of fish and wildlife. Learn more by visiting the websites below.

Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development
Trout Unlimited
National Wildlife Federation

Joel Webster

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July 22, 2013

Morel Mushrooms: Wild Game’s Best Friend

If you’re like me, you are always looking for different ways to prepare wild game. One of my favorite accompaniments to grilled elk is sautéed morel mushrooms.  Considered a delicacy in many parts of the world, morels have a delicious nutty flavor that pairs wonderfully with grilled backstrap, and they are a lot of fun to gather.

Two bags of morel mushrooms.

While expensive at the store, morels can be picked for free in the same woods where you hunt deer and elk. Morels appear in the spring months when the weather begins to warm, and can be found in cottonwood bottoms, woodlots and mountain forests. In the high elevations of the West, morels can be picked as late as July. As a general rule, when you’ve bagged your tom turkey, the time should be right for picking

Morels must always be cooked. Raw, they are toxic and will make you sick.

Morel pickers generally have their best luck finding the mushrooms in recently disturbed areas, such as forests that burned the previous summer, or in cottonwood bottoms with significant beaver activity. From my experience, fires can be the most productive morel picking areas and a single person can gather several pounds in a day if the conditions are favorable.

Morels can easily be dried in a food dehydrator and then stored for a long-time. I generally set aside a bowl of fresh morels to use in the near-term and I then dry the rest and use them for special occasions throughout the year.

If dehydrated, morels can be saved for a long time.

When grilling deer or elk steak, sauté onions and morels in butter and finish the mushrooms with a splash of sherry. When the onions are caramelized and the moisture is cooked out of the morels, I pile the mushrooms and onions on top of elk or venison steaks. The blend of flavors is hard to beat, and guests always ask for seconds.

Morels can be used in an almost endless array of meals. You can stuff them with sausage, use them in gravy and get fancy with French cuisine.

While morels are fairly easy to identify, always do your research and know what you are doing before eating wild mushrooms. Morels must be cooked before eaten. Raw morels contain a toxin that will make you sick. That toxin is removed when they are cooked.

Try morels with deer or elk steaks.

Check out our favorite morel recipes at Honest-food.net.

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