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Entries in Florida Keys (6)


Lionfish Are Malicious But Delicious

Can we eat enough lionfish to keep them from damaging native species and marine ecosystems? Probably not.

But it won’t hurt to try.

Last month, the first “Celebrity Chef Lionfish Challenge” was presented during the annual SeaWeb Seafood Summit, the world’s premier conference on sustainable seafood. Co-hosted by SeaWeb and National Marine Sanctuary Foundation (NMSF), the Challenge brought together seven top regional chefs to prepare their signature lionfish dishes.

Some of the recipes that they came up with include lionfish succotash, lionfish wreckdriver style, and lionfish with crawfish sauce piquant and creole cream cheese grits. Check out all of them here.

According to NMSF, “While visually stunning, the lionfish is an invasive species plaguing marine ecosystems in U.S. waters, particularly the southeast Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean.

“As conventional population reduction methods have proven unsuccessful, organizations are innovating. The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation  and SeaWeb hope a secret weapon – America’s chefs – will spread the word that lionfish are malicious but delicious.”

Lionfish were first confirmed in U.S. waters in the 1980s and, with few natural predators and a fast breeding cycle, their presence is now permanent. They have had significant impact in the Flower Garden Banks, Florida Keys, and Gray’s Reef national marine sanctuaries.

Reduction of the lionfish population is a priority throughout the ocean community and, among their many functions and services, the sanctuaries serve as sentinel sites for control efforts. NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries has just released its Lionfish Response Plan. At Flower Garden Banks, NMSF-funded expeditions have removed quantities of the predators and provided data used to improve population control techniques. 


Coral Diseases Threaten Marine Fisheries


Coral reefs, among the most valuable marine habitats for fisheries, are suffering. Overfishing, world climate change, and other stressors likely are contributing to their degradation and increasing susceptibility to disease. 

One of the most recent examples comes from Hawaii, where a new disease has been found on coral colonies.

This disease can spread fast and has the ability to kill a small coral colony within a week,” said Anne Rosinski, a marine resource specialist with the state’s Division of Aquatic Resources.

Additionally, the state reported that a “mass bleaching event” of coral colonies occurred last fall. Scientists don’t know if there is a direct connection between the disease and the bleaching, “though bleached coral is generally more susceptible to diseases.”

Here is what NOAA says about the value of coral reefs:

  • The commercial value of U.S. fisheries from coral reefs is more than $100 million. In addition, the annual value of reef-dependent recreational fisheries probably exceeds $100 million per year.
  • Coral reefs support more species per unit area than any other marine environment, including about 4,000 species of fish, 800 species of hard corals and hundreds of other species. Scientists estimate that there may be another 1 to 8 million undiscovered species of organisms living in and around reefs.
  •  Storehouses of immense biological wealth, reefs also provide economic and environmental services to millions of people. Coral reefs may provide goods and services worth $375 billion each year.
  • Millions of people visit coral reefs in the Florida Keys every year. These reefs alone are estimated to have an asset value of $7.6 billion.
  • Coral reefs buffer adjacent shorelines from wave action and prevent erosion, property damage, and loss of life. Reefs also protect the highly productive wetlands along the coast, as well as ports and harbors and the economies they support.



Florida Guides Rally to Demand Re-Opening of Fishing Waters

Agitated by the Washington budget impasse that has closed the waters of Everglades National Park, fishing guides in the Florida Keys spearheaded a rally Wednesday telling Federal officials to give them back their fishing grounds.

Participants aboard more than 100 boats, kayaks and paddleboards gathered near the park's eastern Florida Bay boundary, less than a mile off the Keys.

Although Keys state and offshore waters remain open to anglers, fall is a prime season for visitors to fish in the park's shallow waters for prized gamefish such as mangrove snapper, snook, tarpon, redfish and trout.

The park's land and water areas have been closed since Oct. 1. Fishing guides who depend on the resource for income have lost money and are frustrated with Washington leadership's bickering and inability to pass a budget to reopen all Federal resources. They add that, while they find no fault with officials based at the park, they are insisting that Department of Interior officials do something to provide reasonable access, especially if a budget solution is not reached.

"The park being closed means we can't go fishing, that means we can't make any money, and that means the days of fishing we are losing, we don't get back," said Randy Towe, a 35-year Florida Keys fishing guide who organized the protest. "Although we have offshore fishing, which is still good and that's all fine, but a lot of people come to specifically fish in the backcountry for its beauty for the different species of fish."

Towe said that more than 500 people participated in the rally to send a message to Washington.

"These are all people of the Keys, these are guides, these are bartenders, these are mates, they're captains, they're store owners, they're hotel owners, residents, so it's everybody getting together to stand up for what's going on because this really needs to get resolved before it gets any worse," he said.

From Florida Keys Newsroom.


Support Anglers for Access

If you are bass fisherman, you've invited to Anglers for Access Oct. 18 and 19 at Lake Amistad. Organizers Tim Cook and Grant Goldbeck would like to see 500 to 1,000 boats there for peaceful rally to support the Del Rio businesses whose livelihoods are threatened by the government shutdown.

"We want to make it a political media event, not a confrontation," said Carl Wengenroth, who estimates that he is losing $9,000 a weekend at The Angler's Lodge hotel and tackle shop, as well as $3,000  in just a single weekend morning at the cafe.

Check back here for more information, as well go to the Anglers for Access Facebook page.

Go here to read my article at about impact of the shutdown on fishing nationwide.


Angler Outrage Delays Vote on Expanding Keys No-Take Areas

Florida Sportsman photo

Outraged by proposals for new no-take zones throughout the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, charter captains and commercial fishermen won the most recent round in this ongoing battle.

They convinced members of the Ecosystem Protection working group to postpone recommendations for new protected areas until after September, when regional meetings will be staged throughout the Keys.

 "This is a declaration of war against fishermen ... a vast overreach," said Upper Keys commercial fisherman Carlos Jimenez.

Both charter and commercial fishermen said creating new ecological reserves, much larger than the Sanctuary Preservation Areas at popular reef sites, would concentrate fishing pressure in smaller areas. More closures would "saturate other areas" with lobster traps, commercial fisherman Gary Nichols said. "This is the most ludicrous map I've ever seen."

Read more here.


Why We Fish: The You-Just-Never-Know Factor

Heat and drought have pushed the bass and most of the bluegill out to deeper water in the little lake behind my house.

And too many years of catching big bass on topwaters, spinnerbaits, and swimbaits at Lake El Salto in Mexico has spoiled me; mining the depths with finesse baits just isn’t appealing.

So I’ve been heading over to my neighbor’s dock once or twice a week to fish with him for bluegill, catfish, and --- my favorite! --- grass carp. He has an automated feeder that throws out pellets at 6:30 and again at 9, and the fish start gathering there about 6, along with turtles, ducks, and even a muskrat for the second feeding.

Only problem is that the fish have become so conditioned to eating pellets that they now ignore worms and even the bread balls that I offer the carp.

My friend turned off the feeder for a week and we tried fishing again last night, hoping that the fish would be more cooperative.

A few bluegill ate worms, as did a big softshell turtle. But both catfish and carp still wouldn’t touch our baits.

Finally, about 8:30, a few dimples started to appear on the surface of the calm, clear lake. Hoping that I could entice a big bluegill or a small bass, I started throwing a small minnow bait with an ultralight. It wasn’t my first choice. But it was rigged and ready.

About the fourth or fifth cast, with the bait only a few feet from the dock, a long, gray fish suddenly dashed out of deeper water and grabbed it.

Turned out to be a 5-pound-plus channel catfish, not bad for 6-pound line and a buggy whip rod.

That surprise element is one of the most appealing things about fishing for me. And it can come at any moment.

While fishing for bass in Oklahoma a few years ago, I caught a 20-pound-plus flathead catfish on a spinnerbait. And up in Nebraska, I caught a 20-4 northern pike on a smallmouth jig. In the Florida Keys, I dueled a goliath grouper for 45 minutes, after it ate a small grouper that I was reeling in.

And way back during my college years, I was bringing in a small bass that had eaten my topwater. As I reeled it the last couple of feet to shore, a tremendous explosion showered me with water and a fierce yank nearly pulled the rod from my hands. I never saw what ate the little bass and nearly hooked itself on my lure, but that brief moment in time will be forever with me.

When you throw out that bait . . . you just never know.