Tampa Bay anglers love to reel in a snook. Redfish and sea trout are popular with fishing fans as well.
But for the next year, every time anglers catch one of those fish, they will have to turn it loose. State wildlife commissioners voted Wednesday to extend until June 1, 2021, a rule requiring only catch-and-release fishing for those species in the waters between Hernando County and Collier County.
State biologists said this was necessary to rebuild a population that was badly damaged by a long Red Tide algae bloom, but some Tampa Bay anglers are angry about the decision, say bait shop owners.
“This is a major handicap for us — tying our hands behind our backs,” said Tom Karakord, owner of Fourth Street Tackle in St. Petersburg. “These species are what we’re known for in Tampa Bay. It’s going to hurt.”
He contended that Red Tide didn’t affect Tampa Bay that much, and that anglers are reporting record catches for redfish, but they have to throw them back.
“I think the majority of people are upset,” agreed Calvin Foronda of Gulf to Bay Bait and Tackle in St. Pete Beach. “But I tend to side with the conservation aspect, if it prolongs the species.”
Other bait shop owners said they had heard no one objecting. Rosa Anderson of Tatum’s Bait and Tackle in St. Petersburg said she had not heard a word of complaint. And Mitch Halberg of Mitch’s Bait and Taclke in St. Petersburg said the anglers he has talked to all understand the need for the restrictions.
“Most people are all about catching the fish,” Halberg added. Taking it home to clean and cook is just a bonus for them, he said.
The Red Tide algae bloom that led to the restriction lasted for 16 months, making it the worst in a decade. At one point the bloom touched all three of Florida’s coastlines.
Toxins from the bloom killed untold thousands of fish, plus manatees and other sea life. As a result, last year state wildlife officials required anglers in this region who were going after snook, redfish and sea trout to release what they caught, rather than take it home to eat.
That regulation was set to expire on May 31. But on Wednesday, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission agreed to prolong the regulation requiring catch-and-release for another year.
“Recent fisheries monitoring data suggest management changes may be needed to ensure a continued recovery from the 2017-2019 Red Tide events,” state marine fisheries management director Jessica McCawley wrote in a memo to members of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.