FWC maintains Gulf-side closure despite staff recommendations.

As noted in Karl Wickstrom’s Openers column in this issue, many anglers are perplexed by what appears to be an over- reaction involving snook by Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

The common snook (Centropomus undecimalis) in Florida has been one of the world’s most tightly regulated species even though 95 percent of those caught are believed to be released. In 1957 the Florida legislature declared snook a gamefish to stop all commercial catches. Regulations have been tightened gradually over the years since, providing the most restrictive limits on any popular fish.

Due to a cold snap in January 2010 that impacted many inshore species including snook, the FWC imposed an Executive Order calling for a total no-take rule for snook on both coasts effective until Sept. 1, 2011. Thereafter, the FWC allowed Atlantic snook regs to return to normal after Sept. 1, 2011, but the Executive Order for Gulf snook was kept in effect through Aug. 31, 2012.

In May, however, the FWC research staff provided the following updated snook stock assessment prior to the commission’s June meeting in Palm Beach Gardens:

“Based on the results of the 2012 snook stock assessment, staff recommends maintaining the existing regulations for snook on the Atlantic Coast. Staff also recommends maintaining the existing regulations (open for one fish) and allowing the Executive Order to expire for the Gulf Coast for the following reasons: the stock is likely well above the biological threshold, the management changes that were implemented in 2007 should promote stock rebuilding and help buffer the stock from future mortality events, and the current slot limit will protect juveniles as well as the largest individuals in the population. Harvest has been prohibited for over two and a half years and extending the closure for one or two more years may not result in any great increase in stock size, because the juveniles that were most affected by the cold kill are already protected by the slot limit as well as the largest, most reproductively important individuals in the population.”

However, the FWC over-ruled the staff recommendation and instead at the June meeting extended the Executive Order. That now prohibits any possession of Gulf snook until Sept. 1, 2013. The action causes a full year of additional closure.

It was clear that commissioners were influenced by some west coast groups which insist that snook populations are still depleted. The pro-closure ranks included some very experienced and respected anglers, though it should be noted that many of these favor a closure regardless of the scientific findings.

One Gulf coast fishing guide who requested anonymity echoed the sentiments of many others: “What kind of precedent does this set? There’s no rational basis for playing it extra safe when the studies don’t support the need for it. The commission always has the power to close a fishery if there’s another freeze or red tide or other problem. Those who want to release snook can continue to do so. But for no justifiable reason don’t punish the few of us who would like to keep a snook now then.” FS

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