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Call to Action: $50 Bounty on Cobia

Turn over a cobia carcass, make money, have dinner and help research efforts. It's a no-brainer.

Call to Action: $50 Bounty on Cobia

Do cobia spawn off Florida’s estuaries? The state wants to know and will pay you to help find out.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is on the tail end of its second season (March through September) of a three-season project to better understand the reproductive habits of cobia off the lower peninsula of Florida.

Unquestionably, this information is needed. Limits have been tightened in recent years, as fishery managers attempt to address reports of declining catches. Based on conversations I’ve had with anglers and captains from the Panhandle, Tampa Bay, the Keys, Canaveral and Jacksonville, cobia stocks do seem to be in trouble.

Scientists say we don’t know enough about the species. Earlier this year, Ryan Rindone, lead fishery biologist for the federal Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, told me, “Information on cobia is light.”

Recently, I asked Bob Ellis, Ph.D, Associate Research Scientist with the FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, if he thought that supercharged red tide events and blue-green toxic algae blooms may be contributing to a shortage of cobia. He said, “We don’t know.”

Biologists and scientists won’t speculate on an answer to a question. They need repeatable outcomes under somewhat controlled conditions before they’re comfortable answering the kinds of questions I was asking.

Given that the state knows there’s a problem with the cobia fishery and they’re trying to determine their migration patterns and reproductive habits in the lower part of the state, where we’re experiencing progressively worse seagrass die-offs and fish kills, I’d say we have an issue.

Holy pollution, I think we have an issue. We need to know ASAP if cobia reproduce off our southern estuaries.

The current belief is that cobia spawn in the northern Gulf of Mexico, near the mouth of the Mississippi River, in mid to late summer. And then as the water cools the adult cobia migrate east and then south along the Florida coast.




When Ellis told me, “The fish population has been depleted,” and didn’t have an answer for how or why, I immediately asked, what can we do, how can we help?

“We need more cobia carcasses,” Ellis replied.

Guys, the FWC has been averaging fewer than 10 carcasses a month turned in for the roughly 14 months the bounty program has been in place. Let’s double or triple that. It’s a no-brainer; you get to keep the fillets and get paid $50 for donating the carcass. And the information gained from the program may help save the fishery.

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My take on this: If scientists find out that a certain percentage of cobia in fact stay in the lower part of Florida year around, reproducing at the mouths of Tampa Bay, Charlotte Harbor, Biscayne Bay, Palm Beach, Sebastian Inlet—and the Department of Environmental Protection lets pollution continue to go unchecked—we may be watching the collapse of the fishery before our eyes.

Joy Young, Ph.D, FWC Assistant Research Scientist, detailed the quantity of valuable information they get from the cobia carcass. “From the stomach we determine what they’re eating, from the fin clips we determine genetics, and based on where the female cobia was caught, and how recently she released eggs, we can determine generally when and where she spawned,” said Young. “That’s the gold we are hoping for.”

Let’s help our state biologists get the information they need, to save our fishery.

Catch and fillet a cobia, then call a biologist to collect your bounty. FS

GET A $50 REWARD

If you harvest a legal cobia before the end of September 2023, or next year Mar.-Sept. 2024, contact the appropriate biologist within 24 hours.

Southeast Florida (Ft. Lauderdale – Sebastian) call 561-510-5620.

Southwest Florida (Naples – St. Petersburg) call 727-220-7108.

Northwest Florida (St. Petersburg – Steinhatchee) call 727-685-7354.

FWC requests that you not harvest tagged cobia—instead, take a picture of the tag, record the tag number, fork length, date and general location of catch. Release the fish and call one of the numbers above. 

Florida Sportsman Magazine August/September 2023

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