The hot discussion for months: Why would the FWC be reconsidering opening snook to harvest? The shift: Why did the FWC reopen snook to harvest? Many long conversations later and two sit-down meetings with employees of the state, there are things that have changed and there are things that remain blatantly the same. What has changed is that the viewpoints of a majority of the water users rang clear: People want this species to have a future in their lives. What remained the same, sadly, incorrect “science” and the actual decision.
An initial meeting on July 30th heightened the urgency we expressed about an opening that should not even be a consideration for several more years, but with employees of the state who cannot make a decision to reinstate the closure.
What came out of this that is most alarming, the declaration that snook are coming up to numbers that existed before the freeze in January of 2010. Since that is a theme they refuse to abandon, let’s analyze that claim. The first spawn after the freeze was predominantly a failure. The actual growth rate of snook makes it an impossibility that they would be anywhere near a state where they should have protection lifted. FWC myth: “Larger snook were not as adversely affected by the freeze.” People from all over the Gulf coast reported that “cold kills equally.” The sad fact is, what fish we have are being heavily targeted, handled badly and in some cases harvested because the state prematurely lifted the protection that would give the species a legitimate shot at a full recovery.
The actual condition of snook: Fair to poor but enduring a pounding from the state endorsed “opening” to harvest. The strains on the species are already evident with episodes of mishandling being heard daily and certain anglers taking their limits almost daily have already crushed some of the concentrations of “teenage” fish in several areas. The state said the resource could take this kind of abuse but the anglers are calling foul on this management decision.
You see it in the press over and over, experts challenging the ruling. You then see the state citing “science.” What if the science is fiction? Maybe that should be examined: Is this science fiction? It could be because we have imaginary snook these days, similar to aliens and spaceships.
So many people have commented on the species lack of regional management. While that is probably something to consider, the fact is, the knowledgeable people up and down the entire coast know that what has been done here is a huge error. No regional management really applies here anyway. There has simply not been enough time for the species to regain its foothold in the ecosystem begging the question “what’s the rush?”
Word on the Streets
Look at guys like renowned Captain Scott Moore of Manatee County: Scott is opposed to the decision and has been taking charters for redfish. Farther south, look at Captain Bill Baldus who operates out of the Naples area and says “The snook kill in this area was devastating. I was on the water during the week of extreme cold to survey the rivers and back bays and counted hundreds and hundreds of dead or dying snook with many in the slot limit of that time. It is going to take most likely another 5 years for these stocks to return to their post freeze level. The bottom line is that these fish are too valuable of a resource to be caught only once, especially with reduced stocks.” Both Scott and Bill are in areas that fared better than others.
Look at tackle shop owners like one man who says “How bad is this? They create a short-term buzz for me with this decision but the end result will mean years of heartache among all my serious snook anglers. All the gains the closure created will be erased and no one will be buying tackle from me to go catch 18 inch snook.” Look at entrepreneur Eric Bachnik at the L & S Bait Company, also known as, Mirrolure. Eric’s contention is also that the extra attention on the species will be putting a major setback on getting the species back to a magnificent level. “I feel several more years of “snook closure” will ensure a healthy snook population, but will depend on the severity of our winters.” He is also just baffled by the statements from the science division: “Ask Captains Scott Moore, Frank Bachnik, Rheit Morris, Phillip O’ Bannon, Danny Latham, and Matt Hagg about what they are seeing and catching every day.”
Look at the “regular guys” who are not tournament anglers or professional guides and see what they say. This from a man named Bill Grady who I have never met but I saw his comments on social media: “I haven’t seen a snook in my part of the river since the freeze. Not one fish and I fish well over 20 hours a week. The beaches and jetties have decent numbers, but a fraction of what it used to be. The majority of the people I know who fish regularly enough to understand what’s going on with our snook aren’t keeping fish, regardless of the regs.”
Look at me, Neil Taylor, who took the time to drive to meet with officials twice and spent so many hours on the phone and answering emails, corresponding with ultimately 8 to 10 thousand people: I could give 1000 more statements. I could give 500 of my own statements on this one to be quite honest. The second meeting on September 11, 2013, I sat down teleconferenced into Tallahassee with a total of five people to revisit this discussion. My intent: To plead with them to get the Commission to reopen the topic, get the right input and change this one. I led in with “changing the management goals,” something that we talked about in the first meeting. I told them that I saw it as an incredible opportunity to see government reacting to evidence of something they may have missed and would bring a lot of the people around with some confidence in the system.
The conclusion of the meeting
Two and a half hours later, I ended my statement with a similar plea but then another statement. They led me to believe that all the discussion was not going to “change a decision that is already made.” I told them that it is a mistake to allow, as another local captain, radio and television host calls “the worst management decision ever made” to stand. I also told them that they would have to do the damage control because I had to report back to all the people I had listed on my September 9, 2013 letter (which is below). These people were eagerly awaiting the results of the meeting. Disgusted but not surprised I have told them that I have not stopped the effort. I am disappointed that my letters to the Commission have not been answered. I am actually disappointed that based on the severity of this issue they did not devote more to this issue in general. Nonetheless, they are all responsible for the damage that is done by their mismanagement.
Statements from the people I informed of the meeting result were also of disappointment. Also of critique. The opening to have the people involved say “we need to evaluate our management goals” probably would have worked out better for some people. Why? Because from what everyone sees from this, there is nowhere to go other than to attack their science statements. They talked about their program being acknowledged as world renowned as “The Best” but their statements about the ACTUAL CONDITION of this species are so inaccurate, maybe the decision needs to be reevaluated because of bad data. Why would it be inaccurate? Input from people who actually are out on the water was not utilized.
The user groups that want to be able to keep a snook? Sometimes the answer needs to be “no” and that time is now. To decimate a resource, damage so many peoples’ businesses to accommodate people who would just catch something else if you asked them to, it is a tragedy of epic proportions. Whether it is deficient management goals or false monitoring of the species, every day that goes by, the future of this species is being harmed. We will have a great population of snook again, but under the management of the current system it may take 20 years.
With over a week passing with no acknowledgment of my last email, requesting the opportunity to set up a meeting with my resources and the actual Commission, this has to be said. The people have a right to know. What could have been a great opportunity to restore some faith in government is starting to look like a perfect situation to conduct an independent investigation.
Neil Taylor is a kayak guide, outdoor writer and speaker and the owner of www.capmel.com, an outdoor resource for the Florida angler. To reach him, go to www.strikethreekayakfishing.com, use email@example.com or call 727-692-6345