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Three Battles Worth Winning

Let's look at the proverbial water glass as half full for the moment:


* A new assessment of Atlantic red snapper stocks surely will show abundance to be much higher than was divined in the suspect data leading to a total fishing closure.

* The state is moving forward with plans to purchase 72,800 acres of sugar and citrus holdings in order to help curtail over-drainage and horrendous pollution.

* The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is drafting a rule to limit numerically the amount of nutrient pollution allowed in our waters, hopefully ending decades of failed promises and toothless rhetoric.

All three steps could have profound effects on our fishing future, and on the overall well-being of Florida.

First, a revised look at Atlantic red snapper populations, now being organized by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, is supposed to review the methods and findings by government scientists in “SEDAR 15,” utilizing, we hope, fresh thinking.

The latest assessment, as you probably well know, claimed that the spawning potential ratio (percentage of fish compared to what it would be in an unfished state) is down to under 3 percent. The assessment was based on what many say were fanciful, totally unverified guesstimates of fish numbers from back in 1945.

Protests from persons on the water who report red snapper catches to be the best in memory obviously played a major role in ordering the new assessment.

While we worry that the science will be plagued by some of tainted apples from the first barrel, we think the new work will be more realistic and the onerous closure eventually lifted. Plus, the agonizingly messy red snapper scenario should have a positive effect on getting better research in the future.

Second, virtually all fisheries (even including red snapper) are influenced by the quality (or lack thereof) of estuaries, where fresh and salt water meet and mingle to form amazing cradles of life.

Sadly, the St. Lucie to the east and the Caloosahatchee to the west were transformed into agricultural sewers in order to drain, or overdrain, Big Sugar property just south of Lake Okeechobee. The hundreds of billions of gallons of polluted fresh water wiped out fundamental wildlife affecting thousands of species up and down the two coasts.

Now, in a stunning and complex development, U.S. Sugar Corp. is willing to sell its property at a reasonable price ($7,000 an acre). This would allow a flowway that could restore much ground water and ultimately prevent much of the wasteful discharges to sea.

We're not thrilled by the prospect of sugar barons making more big bunches of money, but, you know, they'd have that equity either way now. Let's get on with it. The price will be looked back on as peanuts.

Third, a decision by the EPA to impose a clear-cut numeric limit on the amount of phosphorous and nitrogen dumped into the public's waters by agricultural and other sources is a long-overdue action.

What we might call the Pollution Establishment has ignored the public, the waters and wildlife for far too long, putting private profits ahead of the public good at every ring of the cash register.

So enjoy this quick view of a half-full glass of water. And be alert and active against self-serving compromises that will pop up just down the road.

--Florida Sportsman




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