Florida snook closure extends until September 2011

Like most years, the recreational harvest of snook closed in Florida waters December 15, but unlike in the past, the season is not scheduled to reopen again in February, 2011. A prolonged period of cold weather in January 2010 resulted in the die-off of a large portion of Florida?s snook population, so the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has decided to close the normal spring snook fishing season to allow the population to recuperate. Anglers may still target snook for catch and release during this period. According to an FWC new release,?The extended harvest closure will help protect snook populations this winter when they are most vulnerable to cold weather and give snook added protection during next spring and summer's spawning months.  All other Florida waters are already closed to the harvest of snook until next September for the same reason.? Capt. Ozzie Fischer of Fort Myers says the snook closure is needed to help the fish stocks rebuild after many of the juvenile fish were killed during the January 2010 cold spell where South Florida saw temperatures in the 20s and 30s during the evenings for 12 straight days. Water temperatures at the time were down into the 40s and 50s. Snook become lethargic when water temperatures reach 55 degrees, and start to die off when the water reaches 53 degrees.?To give you an idea how the fish were impacted, during the months of April and May I fish just about every day and I conservatively catch 2,000 fish in that two month period,? said Fischer. ?This year, I caught eight snook in two months. I didn?t even fish for them the rest of the year.?On Florida?s east coast where the water is much deeper, a larger percentage of the snook population survived the cold, but there was still a noticeable snook die-off. Capt. Ed Zyak of Jensen Beach estimates about 30 percent of the snook population perished during that 12-day cold spell, a much lower number than the estimated 85 percent of the population that perished on the west coast.?We definitely had a die-off, but we still had a good spring and fall snook season on the Treasure Coast,? said Zyak. ?We noticed some fish missing from the population in the fall when the snook get around the docks during the mullet run. Usually every dock has fish on it, and this year it was only select docks and bridges that were holding fish.?Zyak says the decision by the FWC to close the spring snook season throughout Florida is a good decision because it?s based on improving the size and vitality of the statewide snook population and that the health of the fishery should take precedent over angler?s wishes to catch a few fish for the table.?We can still practice catch and release,? said Zyak. ?I really don?t keep that many snook anyway, so the rule doesn?t really impact me that much. We need to do whatever we can to protect the snook population so that we have this great fishery in the future.?Anglers can still catch and release snook during the harvest closure, but the FWC encourages everyone to handle and release these fish carefully to help ensure their survival upon release. If at all possible, the FWC encourages anglers to remove the hook from the fish without removing the fish from the water, and any time the fish is taken from the water, it should be held horizontally by the bottom lip with a second hand supporting the underside of the fish.
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