Florida wildlife officials took the extraordinary step Thursday of changing fishing rules for snook and redfish in areas hit hard by a devastating red tide just ahead of the snook season opening Saturday.
Until at least late September, the two popular sport fish will be designated catch-and-release only along parts of the Gulf coast to protect the stock.
“We’ve seen the devastation to the redfish and snook populations in southwest Florida, and we support the catch-and-release initiative taken by [the Florida Fish and Freshwater Fish Commission],” Brian Gorski, Executive Director of Coastal Conservation Association Florida, said in a statement.
Guides and anglers, he added, “understand the need for such a change, to ensure that generations to come can enjoy the thrill of catching one of these iconic species.”
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A red tide appeared off Sarasota in October and over the summer spread up and down the coast, from Pinellas to Collier counties. Fish kills have been widespread, littering beaches with tons of small fish but also larger mammals including sea turtles, dolphins and manatees. Redfish and snook are among Florida’s most popular sport fish, living in shallow coastal waters, among mangroves and in canals. Redfish were nearly over fished in the 1980s before rules were put in place. A 2010 freeze devastated snook, which were protected from commercial fishing in 1957.
Fishing rules for fish outside areas hit by red tide will remain the same. FWC commissioners will reconsider the rule change at their Sept. 26 meeting, a statement said.