Commercial Fishing in Southwest Florida

Image credit: Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council

Image credit: Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council

Southwest Florida has a long tradition of commercial fishing in its rivers, bays, and Gulf waters. In 2015 over 22 million pounds of wild harvested fish and shellfish including shrimp, blue and stone crab, grouper, mackerel, and mullet among others were harvested by commercial fishermen and landed in the seven-coastal counties of Southwest Florida. In addition, approximately 285 wholesalers and 750 retailers bought and sold seafood in this region contributing to Florida’s multi-billion dollar seafood industry.

The fisheries in Southwest Florida are monitored and managed at the state level by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and federally by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council. Closed areas and seasons, size and daily limits, trip tickets, and limited access into a fishery are all tools commonly used to manage Florida’s fisheries. In addition, managers establish annual catch limits and accountability measures to ensure the long-term health of the fisheries they manage. Fishermen use a variety of gear and methods to harvest their catch and they must also follow rules to minimize impacts to the surrounding environment and marine life.

Did you know?

· The most common type of locally harvested shrimp is pink shrimp, which is typically caught in the spring and late fall off Southwest Florida’s coast and further south near the Dry Tortugas. In 2015 over 50% of the pink shrimp harvested in Florida was landed in Lee County.

· Stone crabs are one of Florida’s most valuable fisheries. Only the claws are harvested, and the crab is returned to the water alive. In 2015 Collier County ranked second in the state for stone crab claw production. The stone crab season runs October 15 through May 15th, and claws are sold fresh or frozen already cooked.

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Blue crab on ice

· In 2015 over 1.3 million blue crabs were landed in Southwest Florida representing just over 25% of the state’s total landings? Most of these landings occurred in Lee, followed by Charlotte, then Pinellas counties. Crabs are sold live and/or steamed whole, or their meat is picked and sold fresh or pasteurized. The blue crab season is open year round with the exception of a biennial ten day trap gear closure to account for derelict or lost traps.

· In 2015 over 60% of the mullet landed in Florida came from Southwest Florida? Most of these landing came from Lee, followed by Pinellas and Manatee counties. Most mullet are harvested November through January in bays and other estuarine environments during the annual mullet run. Historically mullet were harvested with gillnets, these nets were banned in Florida state waters in 1996. Today cast and seine nets are the most common gear used.

· Over 50% of the baitfish harvested in Florida were landed in Manatee County during 2015. Spotter planes are often used to find large schools in offshore waters and baitfish are caught using purse seines.

· Approximately 77% of all grouper harvested in Florida in 2015 were landed in Southwest Florida with the majority landed in Pinellas County. Over 4.7 million pounds of Red grouper, the most common grouper harvested were landed in Southwest Florida. Grouper are caught offshore using bandit and longline gear. Other species include gag, black and scamp.

Image Credit: Bryan Fluech, FSG

Red Snapper

· While not as prevalent as in the northern Gulf, red snapper is the most common commercial snapper landed in the region. Other snapper species locally harvested include mutton, lane, mangrove and yellowtail.

· Two species of mackerel, King and Spanish, are harvested off Southwest Florida. King mackerel are commonly caught offshore December through March with hook and line gear. This year the King mackerel catch quota was met early in the western Gulf and closed through the remainder of the Federal year (June 30, 2016).

·  A variety of other species are harvested commercially in Southwest Florida in smaller quantities including, but not limited to: sheepshead, sea trout, tilefish, porgies, amberjack, cobia, tilapia (non-native), jack crevalle, ladyfish, and mojarra.

While the region continues to harvest a variety of wild caught seafood commodities, the size of its commercial fleet and infrastructure to support it has declined dramatically in the past several decades. Regulation changes, coastal development and loss of working waterfronts, competition from imports, natural disasters and attrition have contributed to these declines. Despite these trends, several communities still have a strong commercial fishing presence. For instance, Cortez and San Carlos Island are officially designated as Waterfronts Florida communities by the state of Florida because of their working waterfront and commercial fishing heritage.

Source FWC

Source FWC

buying seafood

Finding Locally Harvested Seafood – If purchasing local seafood is important to you, but you aren’t sure where to go the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has an Agricultural Product Database where you can search for specific Florida commodities by location www.freshfromflorida.com. A new website which also has a downloadable app www.eatgulfseafood.org comprises seafood information from all five Gulf States. And finally, NOAA has a great site for checking to see the sustainability and nutritional information of different fish species http://www.fishwatch.gov/.

If you have questions about whether the products you purchase are locally harvested talk to the people who are selling them to you. Instead of asking “where do you get your seafood from?” consider asking “where is it harvested?” as their product may be purchased from a local processor, but the seafood itself could have been harvested elsewhere. Legitimate fish dealers should be able to provide you with the details you are seeking.

References: · Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) · Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services