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Entries in reef fish (4)

Sunday
Oct082017

Reef Fish Mortality Reduced by Angler Education, Conservation Measures

A cooperative effort among the recreational fishing industry, anglers and state and federal agencies has resulted in reduced mortality for thousands of red snapper and other reef fish in the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic.

Throughout 2015-2017, the FishSmart Best Practices and Descender Education project, coordinated through the FishAmerica Foundation, engaged more than 1,100 anglers in the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic regions to improve the survival of angler caught-and-released fish. Participants in the project were provided with information on best practices for handling and releasing fish and with SeaQualizer descending devices. They were then asked to evaluate their experience.

Through the FishSmart Best Practices and Descender Education project, anglers collectively reported releasing 16,000 – 28,000 red snapper and 13,000 - 22,000 other fish by applying best practices techniques and using the SeaQualizer when needed. Based on the most recent research on the benefits of descending fish under conditions typically encountered in the Gulf of Mexico, an estimated 3,000 - 9,000 red snapper survived during this project period through the use of the SeaQualizer alone, plus an unknown number of fish that survived as a result of improved handling techniques.

“Through the FishSmart project, the recreational fishing industry is leading the way to improve the survival of caught-and-released fish and help ensure the future of our sport” said Mike Nussman, president and CEO of the American Sportfishing Association (ASA). “The FishSmart Best Practices and Descender Education project represents the continued growth and evolution of this program, which reflects anglers’ and the industry’s longstanding and continued commitment to fisheries conservation.”

One of the key findings of the four regional workshops was that returning saltwater fish caught in deep water to the depth at which they were caught – or as close as possible – can significantly improve their chances of survival. In the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic, many reef fish such as red snapper are being released due to increasingly shorter seasons and higher rates of encounter. Without proper handling techniques, such as use of descending devices, a significant percentage of released fish die, to the detriment of fisheries conservation and future fishing opportunities.

However, since release mortality in recreational fisheries is the culmination of millions of individual encounters between anglers and fish, true conservation benefits will be achieved by empowering individual anglers with information, training and tools to improve the survival of each individual fish that they return to the water.

“Some of the key findings of the project involved the changes that anglers voluntarily made in the way that they released fish,” remarked Mike Leonard, ASA’s Conservation director. “The vast majority of project participants found that information provided on how to properly handle fish improved the way that they release fish.”

Leonard added, “Nearly 75 percent had little or no knowledge of descender devices prior to participating in this project and indicated that are now likely to use a descender device to release most or all fish when needed. This reinforces the well-known fact that anglers are true conservationists at heart: provide them with the tools and techniques to do the right thing and they readily embrace it.”

Additional information about the results of the project are included in this information sheet.

This FishSmart Best Practices and Descender Education project was the result of numerous partnerships. Major funding support was provided through the American Sportfishing Association, the Brunswick Foundation, Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, NOAA Fisheries, SeaQualizer, LLC, and Grizzly Smokeless Tobacco.  Educational materials and descending devices were distributed through the assistance of partners including Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation, Coastal Conservation Association. International Game Fish Association, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Georgia Coastal Resources Division, Florida Sea Grant, South Carolina DNR, Texas Parks & Wildlife, Alabama Department of Conservation, and Texas A&M/Harte Research Institute.

Thursday
Jan282016

Gulf States Should Manage Gulf Red Snapper Fishery

Under this administration, recreational fishing for red snapper in federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico has been diminished to a fraction of what it once was, as the feds have turned over more and more of it to a few commercial operations.

It's time for a change. The Gulf states have better data regarding the health of the fishery and are for more likely to manage based on science than politics. That's why HR 3094, the Gulf States Red Snapper Management Authority Act, needs to be passed by Congress. Here's what its sponsor, U.S. Rep. Garret Graves of Louisiana, has to say:   

As Ben Raines’ weekend article in the Times Picayune and AL.com illuminated, the federal government has hand-picked dozens of multi-millionaire “Sea Lords” by allowing them to control the red snapper fishery in the Gulf of Mexico. While these select few “Sea Lords” are making millions from our fish, the season for recreational anglers – who used to be able to fish for red snapper all year long – has been absurdly diminished. In 2015, the recreational red snapper season was 10 days.

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As it stands today, the right to catch 77 percent of the annual red snapper harvest is controlled by just 55 people, according to an AL.com analysis of hundreds of pages of federal documents, reports and websites--- AL.com

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The agency charged with managing our national fishery, the National Marine Fisheries Service, conducted a study on the health of red snapper fish stocks in the Gulf of Mexico. You’ll be shocked to learn that federal government’s methodology and results were grossly inadequate.

Their analysis failed to include reef areas – the actual habitat of red snapper, a reef fish. Think about that. It’s like looking for polar bears in Louisiana, finding none, and declaring the population to be at risk of extinction.

Let me be clear, the sustainability of our fisheries is paramount. It is critical that we employ the best science to responsibly manage them and to support their long-term viability.  It’s no secret that Louisiana is home to some of the nation's top restaurants that rely on the supply of fresh, wild seafood to meet demand. Some argue that expanding recreational access would lead to overfishing and threaten commercial interests.

This mentality has bred the current system of a government sanctioned oligarchy that monopolizes a public resource. And it has punished tens of thousands of families across the Gulf Coast that enjoy fishing in Sportsman’s Paradise. Luckily, there is another way.

In July of last year, I introduced HR 3094, the Gulf States Red Snapper Management Authority Act in the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill simply gives the five Gulf states’ wildlife departments the authority to manage the red snapper that live offshore their coast. This approach favors local control and would transfer management decisions to the professionals who are closest to the fishery.

In Louisiana for example, our Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has demonstrated a commitment to using the best science to sustainably manage our fisheries through efforts like the agency's LA Creel program, which helps to provide an accurate count of red snapper fish stocks in our coastal waters. Today, HR 3094 has nearly 30 bipartisan sponsors from across the nation.

The fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico are public property and should be enjoyed by all - not managed like a long-abandoned "sharecropper" model that enriches a select few.  Sometimes all it takes is a little sunshine on bad policy to fix things.  To quote Herbert Hoover, “all men are equal before fish.”  Let's enact HR 3094 so we can ALL enjoy the Gulf's bounty.

 

Monday
Sep012014

Nursery-Raised Coral Spawning to Build Reef Habitat in Keys

Staghorn coral photo from Southeast Fisheries Science Center

In August, researchers at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) observed transplanted nursery-raised staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) spawning for the first time at Tropical Rocks, about 4 miles offshore of Marathon.

These corals were supplied by the Coral Restoration Foundation and Mote Marine Lab nurseries and outplanted by FWC. The project was made possible by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act via The Nature Conservancy.

The FWC and the Conservancy are reseeding coral reefs in efforts to aid recovery of wild staghorn populations, which contributes significantly to reef growth, island formation, and coastal protection, while providing essential habitat for a number of important reef fish.

“This is the first time that we have seen staghorn coral spawning at the reef tract that included corals grown as part of our nursery program,” said Caitlin Lustic, coral recovery coordinator for the Conservancy in Florida.

“This spawning event shows that outplanted corals have the ability to reproduce just like a natural colony and furthers our goal of creating breeding colonies of coral that can repopulate reefs on their own.”

The FWC, in collaboration with the Conservancy and other American Recovery and Reinvestment Act partners, began construction on the Middle Keys coral nursery in late 2009 but suffered setbacks due to a coldwater kill and, later, a warm-water bleaching event. The goal of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act project was to expand the current nurseries, develop new nurseries and outplant high numbers of nursery-grown corals throughout the Florida reef tract and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“With this project, we developed excellent working relationships with the Conservancy and the rest of our partners,” said Kerry Maxwell, coral researcher with the FWC.

“Together we boosted threatened staghorn populations and realized the ultimate goal of the project: spawning. Even though the project backed by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is complete, I anticipate we will all continue to collaborate toward the common goal of coral reef restoration.”

To learn more about corals go here.

To learn more about Conservancy efforts to protect Florida’s coast, including coral reef habitat, go here.

Monday
Jul232012

Dry Tortugas Protected Area Yields Benefits

Anglers across Florida are seeing more fish, thanks to the collaborative benefits of the National Park Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), according to a joint release from the two agencies.

Researchers have spent five years examining how fish and other natural resources responded to the protection offered in the Dry Tortugas National Park Research Natural Area, a 46-square-mile area within the park. Fishing and anchoring are prohibited in the area, which was created in January 2007. Their verdict is that the collaboration “has been a success, not only to local populations of fish, but for fisheries management across Florida.”

“I believe marine protected areas should only be implemented as a last resort, but, if one was going to be implemented, this was the right place to close and this was the right place to do the research,” said FWC Vice Chairman Kathy Barco. “They did it right. They talked with the fishermen and the other stakeholders.”

Using modeling techniques, University of Miami researchers predict that the spawning groups in the Tortugas supply larvae that settle throughout Florida waters, including the Keys, the West Florida shelf, and eastern coastal areas north of Miami. Research also shows that seagrass beds in the area serve as nursery grounds for many exploited reef fish species, such as red and black grouper.

Inside the Research Natural Area, researchers found the number and size of mutton snapper, yellowtail snapper, red grouper and hogfish all have increased during the past five years.

Dry Tortugas National Park is about 70 miles to the west of Key West and includes 100 square miles of marine waters and seven small islands. Congress established the park to protect and interpret the exceptional biological, cultural and recreational values of the area, including its pristine subtropical marine ecosystem and intact coral reef community.

Despite its remote location, the park attracts more than 53,000 visitors a year for fishing, snorkeling, diving, bird watching, camping and viewing Fort Jefferson.

These scientific findings are very encouraging and are exactly what we were hoping for when the RNA was established five years ago,” said Dan Kimball, Superintendent of Everglades and Dry Tortugas national parks.

The collaboration also brought about several advancements in mutton snapper research, including the first-ever observation of repeated mutton snapper spawning events at Riley’s Hump, a protected fish-spawning aggregation site in the Tortugas South Ecological Reserve.

Taken to­gether, the results of the five-year science review suggest that the RNA has played a substantive role in enhancing exploited reef fish species populations in the region and, especially in the case of mutton snapper, likely contributed to the recov­ery of the spawning aggregations at Riley’s Hump.

An observation from the Activist Angler: The release did not mention when or if the prohibition would be lifted in the research area.  Instead, it said this: "The FWC and NPS hope to continue this work well into the future."

I'm not suggesting that recreational fishing should be allowed right away in this case. But anti-fishing groups too often push for "marine protected areas" simply because of preservationist ideology, with no scientific rationale to justify their implementation.