For the readers who may not be familiar with snook and recent events in Florida, I will provide a bit of background. Snook are warm water inshore gamefish found in South Florida and throughout the Caribbean. Because of their tropical nature, snook, in particular Florida populations, are vulnerable to cold temperatures brought on by severe cold fronts. These severe weather events in Florida can cause statewide snook mortalities, often devastating the fishery. In 2010, one of the strongest cold fronts in 80 years swept through Florida, killing 80% of the snook on the Gulf coast. The catastrophic losses to the fishery prompted resource managers to temporally close the spring and fall recreational harvest seasons.
Hundreds of dead snook floating within the Flamingo basin in Everglades National Park
Three and half years have passed since the closure, anglers are catching lots of snook, and the fishery still remains no-take. Resource managers are now deciding whether or not to re-open snook season this fall. Thus, the question remains, should they?
My opinion is no.
Re-opening snook season now may have lasting impacts on the fishery, largely due to the current absence of big spawning snook. Data show that the cold front had disproportionately strong impacts on small juvenile snook (under 12 inches) and more importantly large sexually mature adults that exceeded the slot limit.
Dozens of big breeding snook that perished during the 2010 cold front
It takes at least four to five years from the time a snook is hatched to grow to slot size. So, fish that were born in the summer of 2010 may be just big enough to be kept this fall. If snook season opens now, no snook spawned after the freeze will be able to reach the heavily depleted breeding stock without the chance of being harvested. Not only could this slow the recovery of snook , but may make catching a slot size or over slot snook on the gulf coast even more of a rare occurrence. Therefore, I think the benefit of waiting a couple extra years to re-open snook season in order to re-charge the breeding stock outweighs the cost of not being able to keep them. However, guides that are losing business from the closure understandably may have different opinions.
The 2010 cold front was one of the worst in 80 years. Because of its unprecedented severity, we do not know not how long it will take for the fishery to fully recover. Nor do we know whether there maybe unintended consequences from opening the season pre-maturely. Given that the fishery is still extremely valuable as catch and release only, it may be best to lean on the side of caution.
It seems like FWC’s recommendation will be to re-open the season, which is discussed in the interview with Dr. Whittington from FWC in the Miami Herald (see link below). So it is likely that the season will re-open.
State managers are meeting this week to make their final decision, so we should know what the status of the season is some time very soon.