PLANT CITY — Closed for the past two years to boaters and fishermen, the Edward Medard Reservoir may open by the end of December. But fishing might have to wait.
The Southwest Florida Water Management District closed the reclaimed phosphate mine in 2009 to make repairs to prevent erosion. The structure was built in 1970.
With the water level lowered and most of the fish removed, biologists with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, or FFWCC, studied the types and numbers of fish species in the reservoir. What they found encouraged them to create a fish management area to regulate fishing there.
"During the drawdown, we were seeing a lot of exotic species," said Bill Pouder, a biologist with the FFWCC Fisheries Division. Those non-native fish can wreak havoc on native species. More regulations would help the conservation commission keep a closer eye on fish populations and create a better fishing experience, he said.
The proposed fish management area would require anyone fishing to have a fishing license, including those with cane poles. It would also set bag limits and monitor fishing more closely.
Officials hope to poll fishermen so the rules can be customized.
Fishing is likely still far off.
With water levels back to normal, the FFWCC restocked the reservoir last fall and spring with more than 400,000 fish, including bluegill and largemouth bass. They plan to add about 200,000 more fish in spring 2012.
For now, the fish in the reservoir remain too young and small, Pouder said. The FFWCC wants to keep fishing closed until December 2013.
"We want to let those fish grow," he said.
Those who attended a meeting Thursday run by Hillsborough County, the FFWCC and the Southwest Florida Water Management District had mixed reactions to the proposed fishing delay.
"If it's already been two years. Another two years are not going to hurt," said Bill Gay, of Plant City. "There are other places to go."
For Mike Baccamazzi, a recreational fisherman who lives near the reservoir, the wait has been enough.
"I'm not interested in getting my groceries out of there," he said. "I just want to fish."
For more information, contact Pouder with the FFWCC at (863) 647-4000, ext. 1142, or bill.pouder@MyFWC.com.
Shelley Rossetter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2442.