Welcome to the video workshop for red tide in southwest Florida as it relates to the current short-term catch-and-release measures for snook, redfish and trout.
00:14 - Let’s begin with an overview of why we’re here. As you may know, southwest Florida experienced a prolonged red tide event from November 2017 through February of 2019. This red tide generated long large scale fish kills throughout the region and although there were similar shorter red tide balloons in other areas, fish kills were most prevalent in southwest Florida. In response to the large-scale fish kills and with an abundance of caution, FWC implemented short-term management changes through executive order or EO for snook, redfish and sea trout beginning in 2018.
These species were ultimately made catch-and-release only in the area from Pasco County through Gordon Pass and Collier County and the current catch-and-release EO expires at the end of May. Although the feedback we’ve received so far is that these species have improved since the catch-and-release measures were implemented, not everyone agrees that these fisheries should reopen with the normal species-specific regulations. We want to hear from you about potential short-term management options for snook, redfish and sea trout for after the current catch-and-release EO expires.
There are a variety of ways to provide comments including submitting written comments through our saltwater comments page by visiting myfwc. com backslash saltwater comments and we’re also doing an online survey that will be available until April 18th, and of course you can provide your input directly to commissioners at the May commission meeting, when they’ll be discussing this topic next. When we’re evaluating potential impacts of red tide on Florida’s inshore fisheries, there are a variety of things we consider.
First of all, species-specific life history traits and behaviors can provide insight into potential long-term impacts for that species. FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute or FWRI conducts monthly fisheries independent sampling in estuaries around the state. This sampling has been happening in Tampa Bay and Charlotte Harbor for over 20 years and in Sarasota Bay since 2009. The monitoring data can be used to evaluate potential localized red tide-related impacts by comparing current abundance to long-term averages within each system.
Recent changes in abundance can help describe short-term impacts to a population. Additionally, our knowledge about the impacts from previous red tides can also help assess likely impacts from the 2017-2019 red tide event. I mentioned that a species life history and behaviors can help determine how resilient they are to red tide events. Snook are moderately resilient to red tide. They’re long lived, about 20 years, and quick to mature. Snook also spawn multiple times each year from April through November, which includes months when red tide are less common in the spring and summer.
Snook are also known to move into low salinity habitats for refuge from red tide. Redfish are slightly less resilient to red tide than snook. Redfish are also long-lived but they’re slow to mature. The redfish that are in estuaries are young, typically less than four years old, and they move offshore as they get older. Adult redfish only come back to spawn in passes off estuaries in the fall, then larva move inshore. With redfish one of the biggest concerns was that the red tide coincided with the timing of these fall spawning aggregations.
As for spotted sea trout, they’re a little more susceptible to mortality from red tide because they spend their entire life in the estuary and they don’t move into rivers like snook does. What makes them resilient to red tide is their ability to recover quickly due to their spawning strategy, which is essentially maturing young and living fairly long lives, about 12 years. Sea trout, like snook, spawn during spring and summer when red tides are less common.
As an example of the resiliency, following the 2005 red tide that reduced the spawning stock in Tampa Bay and Charlotte Harbor, seatrout populations rebounded within four years. The next thing I mentioned is important to consider when evaluating impacts from red tide events is monitoring data. Before we dive into the data for each estuary, let me explain why, when and how data are collected. To track estuary or regional abundance through time FWRI’s fishery independent monitoring program or FIM uses a random sampling approach.
FIM uses multiple gear types to gather information on different life stages. Haul seines are generally used to collect larger fish like sub-adults and adults. Bay and river seines collect young of the year fishes, which will be the ones recruiting to the fishery in subsequent years. The top left photo shows a bay seine and the bottom left photo shows a river seine. The maps on this slide show the actual sampling locations for each type of sampling gear.
05:20 - Let’s take a quick tour of the figure you’ll see in the upcoming slides. The graphs on the left are monitoring data for adults and sub-adults of each species. The data on the right shows monitoring data for young of year fish and juvenile. Currently, we have data through February of 2021. The bottom of the graph shows years and the left axis is the number of fish caught per net. The dashed white line represents the long-term average abundance. The black points represent the average number of fish collected per net in each sample year.
Red points are the 2005 and 2018 red tide events, which were similar in severity and the gold point represents the 2010 cold kill event. The last point on the right of the graph may be yellow, which means that the sampling year isn’t complete. The error bars are standard error, which gives an idea of variability around the mean and large error bars mean more variability. Now that we can read these figures let’s take a closer look at how snook in Charlotte Harbor may have been affected by the red tide event.
With the figure on the left, you can see a decline in adult and sub-adult abundance from 2017 to 2018 but the abundance doesn’t dip below the long-term average. Abundance increases again in 2019 and currently is among the highest observed. Moving over to young of year and juvenile snook on the right, the first thing you might notice is this large increase in average abundance beginning in 2015. This increases because revenues from the snook stamp program increased and the funding allowed FWRI to expand the sampling program into more productive habitats for juvenile snook in Charlotte Harbor.
Looking at our data points around the red tide event you can see that young of year and juvenile abundance declined from 2017 to 2019 but did remain above the long-term average. I also wanted to mention that a stock assessment of snook in Florida is expected later this year and FWC will be reviewing long-term management of the species throughout the state.
07:26 - Next let’s look at redfish populations in Charlotte Harbor. The figure on the left for sub-adult abundance shows the cyclical up and down nature of this fishery well. You can see over time that there are periods of strong year classes followed by years where recruitment is lower. We only sample and focus on subadults here for two reasons. The first being that adult redfish live offshore. Most of the year and are not usually sampled in this monitoring the second reason is that sub-adult redfish are what are typically caught within estuaries and are really the bread and butter of this particular fishery diving deeper into the left-hand figure we see sub-adult abundance declined after 2013 and remained relatively stable albeit mostly below the long-term average through 2018.
In 2019, sub-adult abundance increased over the long-term average and it’s remained there in 2020. This could be indicative of a strong year class and that we could be entering one of those good portions of the fishery cycle.
08:28 - Looking to the right at young of year redfish in Charlotte Harbor, we can see that there’s been a general decline in abundance from 2015 through 2018. However, in 2019, we see that abundance began to increase and young of year abundance is above the long-term average in 2020. As is the case with snook, a stock assessment for redfish in Florida is expected later this year. After which, FWC will be reviewing long-term management statewide. Moving on, let’s look at seatrout data for Charlotte Harbor on the left graph.
We can see that adult and sub-adult seatrout abundance generally declined from 2010 through 2016 with 2018 having the lowest abundance on record. Recall that spotted seatrout experience initial impacts of red tide more severely than snook or redfish, in part because their entire life cycle occurs within the estuary. The 2018 red tide event could likely have been a contributing factor that brought an already declining abundance down to its record low but as i mentioned earlier seatrout are resilient and recover relatively quickly, which can be seen by the adult and sub-adult abundance.
Increasing both in 2019 and 2020 and now currently sitting above the long-term average, on the right figure, you can see that young of year abundance fell below the long-term average in 2016 and though we’ve seen increases in 2018 and 2019 it remains just below the long-term average in 2020. Based on declines of spotted seatrout throughout the state and stakeholder concerns, FWC implemented more restrictive statewide regulations for this fishery that took effect in early 2020.
10:13 - Sampling of snook, redfish and spotted seatrout in Sarasota Bay began in 2009 thanks to collaborative efforts between FWC and the Sarasota Bay National Estuary Program, which provides the funding needed to successfully conduct monitoring of these species on a bi-monthly basis within the estuary. For snook young of the year and juvenile habitats are not sampled in Sarasota Bay, so here we just have a figure for adult and sub-adults. You can see that adult and sub-adult abundance is variable but relative abundance increased from 2017 to 2018 and is comparable to the long term average in 2019 and 2020.
As you can see by the light yellow data point, 2020 data are incomplete with only eight months of data available Next, let’s look at redfish populations in Sarasota Bay. As i mentioned, the redfish fishery tends to be cyclical with high and low years. On the left, you can see that subadult redfish abundance generally declined beginning in 2012 and was stable but well below the long term average from 2014 to 2018. In 2019, we saw an increase in sub adult abundance above the long-term average and it has remained so in 2020.
Moving to the right we can see that young of year redfish abundance has been below the long-term average in Sarasota Bay since 2017 but has since increased.
11:41 - Let’s move on to seatrout data for Sarasota Bay. On the figure on the left you can see this adult and sub-adult spotted seatrout abundance has generally declined since 2010 but increased in 2019 and 2020. It is now comparable to the long-term average.
12:00 - Monitoring indicates the 2017-2019 red tide event likely had short-term impacts to young of year sea trout abundance. However, since 2018, there have been increases in abundance and they are above the long-term average. For snook in Tampa Bay, adult and sub-adult abundance decreased in 2009 and began to increase after the cold kill in 2010. Snook continued to increase in subsequent years and is above the long-term average. Annual abundance of newly spawned fish or young of year is highly variable.
Young of year abundance decreased in 2018 and 2019 but early results from 2020 indicate young of your abundance is above the long-term averages in Tampa Bay.
12:47 - Next, we’ll look at redfish data for Tampa Bay. Here on the left graph you can see that sub-adult abundance over earlier years has been variable with some highs and lows. Redfish abundance increased in 2018 following a four-year declining trend and in 2020 is above the long-term average. On the right, you can see that the young of year was highest in 2003 and started to decline in 2004 in 2005, which was a red tide event year. After 2005, young of year abundance has been below or comparable to the long-term average.
In 2019, young of year abundance increased slightly but remained just below the long-term average. 2020 data show the increase in abundance is above the long-term average.
13:33 - Finally, let’s explore seatrout data for Tampa Bay. On the left you can see that over the years adult and sub-adult seatrout abundance is variable and shows an up and down or oscillating trend. Abundance has been consistently below the long-term average since 2016 but increased in 2019 and in 2020 is comparable to the long-term average for young of year. . Abundance is similar to the adult and sub-adult abundance in that it’s variable and shows up and down year.
Young of year abundance declined below the long-term average in 2019 and remains below average in 2020 but is increasing.
14:15 - Before we go over some of the options for moving forward after the current catch and release measures expire, let’s go over a few things that are important to consider. First, we know that red tide impacted portions of the region differently such as the severity of fish kills and habitat damage. However, as we’ve seen, FWC monitoring has not detected that the 2017-2019 red tide event had a long-term negative effect on snook, redfish and trout populations in these estuaries.
Fishing effort is perceived to be up since early 2020 despite the catch and release measures, which has given some anglers additional cause for concern about the consequences of allowing harvest to resume later this year. The current catch and release measures are short-term and we need to balance short-term management with the need to ensure access to the resource long-term. The commission recently updated long-term management for seatrout statewide based on stock assessment results and angler concerns and that was by implementing stricter harvest regulations and I mentioned that we’ll have stock assessments for both snook and redfish later this year and the commission will re-evaluate long-term management of these species statewide.
So i mentioned that we’d be talking about some options for how to move forward with short-term management and there are a variety of things we could do including options that would apply to the entire catch and release area. Some that would apply to only portions of the area and options for limited reopening. Gradually, we’ll go over several potential options in the next few slides but the options in this presentation are not exhaustive and we welcome additional ideas that you all might have.
The first set of potential options would apply to the entire catch and release area. The first option is to resume normal FWC species-specific harvest regulations for this area on June 1st. The second option is to resume FWC harvest regulations for sea trout and a limited harvest for snook and redfish such as allowing one snook and one redfish per vessel instead of the one fish per harvester that is in place for these species in rule. A third option is to resume normal harvest regulations for seatrout but retain catch and release measures for snook and redfish until long-term statewide management updates are considered.
After the upcoming stock assessments, the final area-wide option presented here is to extend the current catch-and-release measures for all three species until long-term statewide management of snook and redfish is addressed. As a reminder, under normal regulations, snook has a season and would not open to harvest until September 1st and seatrout will open under more strict regulations when it opens to harvest.
16:59 - The regional options on this and the next slide could help address the regional differences in these fisheries and red tide effects here the entire catch and release area is divided into two areas as shown on the map. The northern area is Pasco County and Tampa Bay and shown by the blue hatch marks the southern area is Sarasota Bay south through Gordon Pass in Collier County and is shown with the red hatch marks. Let’s look at Pasco County and Tampa Bay.
First, this area includes all waters of Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties and all waters of Manatee County north of state road 64 excluding Palmisola bay and includes the Braden River.
17:41 - The fifth option is to resume normal FWC species-specific harvest regulations for this area on June 1st. The sixth option is to resume FWC harvest regulations for spotted seatrout and snook and extend the catch and release measures for redfish until long-term statewide management of redfish is addressed as a reminder under normal regulations. Snook would open to harvest on September 1st and if seatrout open it will be with the new more restrictive regulations that took effect in 2020.
Now let’s look at Sarasota Bay through Gordon Pass in Collier County. This area includes all waters of Palma solar bay and all waters of Manatee County south of state road 64 but excluding the Braden river. The last option that I’ll present is to resume normal FWC harvest regulations for seatrout in this area on June 1 and to extend the catch and release measures for snook and redfish until long-term statewide management of these species is addressed. The red tide event had varying degrees of impact across the southwest Florida region from large scale fish kills to reduction in suitable habitat.
FWC monitoring has not detected that the 2017 to 2019 red tide event had a long-term negative effect on snook, redfish and spotted seatrout populations but we can’t just look at fish monitoring. We know that sustainable fisheries rely on healthy marine and estuarine habitats. FWC works with other agencies to identify, design and implement habitat restoration projects, which is a priority for the agency. These restoration efforts directly or indirectly benefit inshore and nearshore fisheries and several projects have been completed or are ongoing.
The current catch and release measures are temporary and there are a variety of approaches that can be taken once the current EO expires at the end of May. This could include additional short-term measures for the entire catch and release area, a more regional approach or a gradual reopening until the long-term statewide management of snook and redfish is addressed. This slide includes a variety of ways that the public can provide comments on this topic.
We’re going to be compiling all the feedback we get and presenting the information to commissioners at the May commission meeting, which is an opportunity for the public to provide comments directly to commissioners. .