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Redfish rules up for review

When it comes to redfish, there's some good news and some bad news. First

Strict government regulation of the species in the late 1980s is proving a success. The number of redfish in the Tampa Bay estuary is up, and anglers are killing fewer fish than they did a few years ago.

Now the bad news.

The redfish in the bay are not yet old enough to spawn.

"Redfish on this coast can live to be 20 or 30 years old," explained Michael Murphy, the state's leading redfish biologist. "So when you think of these young fish in terms of the overall redfish population, it could take years for them to replace the spawning adults."

How long will it take for redfish to recover from the recreational and commercial overfishing of the 1980s? Conservative estimates say at least 10 years.

By that time, biologists hope the redfish population will have reached "safe levels" where the fish can "replace" themselves. Even then, the redfish population will only be about 30 percent of what it was when the first Europeans reached Tampa Bay's shores.

"We know that there is a potential for overfishing with redfish," Murphy said. "It looks like we may need these regulations for a long time."

Next week, the Florida Marine Fisheries Commission will meet in Fort Myers to reconsider the state's redfish policy.

Commissioners will hear from commercial fishermen who cannot buy or sell a native redfish. They will also hear from recreational anglers who must abide by a three-month closed season and one-fish bag limit.

Commissioners are gathering information now because the current regulations expire on Oct. 1, 1991.

"We will hear public testimony and review biological data," said Lee Schlesinger, spokesman for the commission. "Then by late January, they should decide if we will keep the rule the way it is, or if adjustments should be made."

Local chapters of the Florida Conservation Association (FCA) will be sending busloads of members to the Sheraton Harbor Place to attend the hearing on Nov. 10.

The FCA was the driving force behind the 1988 decision to grant the redfish "gamefish" status. It marked the end of a three-year struggle in which the FCA intervened legally several times on behalf of the commission.

This group of conservation-minded anglers adopted the redfish as its symbol. Members, in their red hats, are frequently seen at commission meetings fighting for stronger regulations.

Since its inception in 1985, this non-profit organization has been supported by membership dues and fund-raisers such as the one being held Thursday at the Tierra Verde Yacht Resort in St. Petersburg.

Members throughout the state have donated fishing tackle, guided trips and artwork that will be auctioned off during the banquet.

On the block this year is John Costin's latest print Brown Pelican, and fishing tackle from G-Loomis, Scientific Anglers and some of the area's top custom-rod builders. Radiant Marine has donated a 16-foot Revenge flats boat and Kenyon Marine has chipped in a 25-horsepower, electric-start Evinrude.

But it's the trips with local fishing guides that traditionally draw the most bidding. You can buy a bonefish trip on Biscayne Bay or Turneffe Flats in Belize, or battle a snook in Tampa Bay or Costa Rica.

Tickets to the banquet cost $60 and that includes a year's membership to the FCA. For more information, contact Blair Wickstrom at 323-1521.

Other Marine Fisheries Commission action: At next week's meeting, the commission also will develop a policy for shrimping in southwest Florida. This is of interest to bay area residents because of the current controversy over shrimping in Hillsborough Bay.

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