Healthy eating, happy fishing and happy holidays

By AMBER WARD, Extension Program Manager, Family Nutrition Program and ARMANDO UBEDA, Florida Sea Grant, Sarasota County Extension Agent

With the holidays approaching, it is good to know that Florida makes it easier for many residents to save money and eat healthy. Qualifying Florida residents/anglers can fish for free from a saltwater shoreline or on a structure attached to the shoreline. Then, prepare and eat that catch of the day for a tasty, nutritious meal.

Yellowtail snappers

Yellowtail snappers. [credit Florida Sea Grant]

Florida residents who quality for free fishing include:

  • all anglers who fish from a licensed pier;
  • residents at least 65 years old, with proof of age and residency;
  • all children under 16 years old;
  • resident disabled persons who meet certain qualifications;
  • active duty military personnel, while home on leave; and
  • residents in the SNAP/food stamp program, or those receiving temporary cash assistance or Medicaid benefits.

Residents must follow current fishing regulations, which can be found in both English and Spanish at http://www.myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/recreational/. Or, regulations are available with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) app for your smartphone or tablet. Residents also must be able to present proof of residency (a valid Florida driver’s license or Florida ID Card) and documentation to validate your qualifying status if applicable (e.g., SNAP EBT card, Medicaid card).

Fishing can be a great family or friend activity, and eating freshly caught fish can have many health and budget-friendly benefits. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish up to two six-ounce servings per week to promote cardiovascular health. Learn more at http://www.floridahealth.gov/programs-and-services/prevention/healthy-weight/nutrition/seafood-consumption/quick-facts.html.

There is one catch, though. All populations, especially young children and women of childbearing age, should select fish with low mercury content. Mercury is a heavy metal that is toxic to humans, and poses significant risks for young children and fetuses. Cleaning and cooking the fish does not remove this toxin. So, it is important to know which fish to limit or avoid in your diet, and to check local advisories for the safety of local saltwater and freshwater fish.

The Florida Department of Health has a quick start guide to help you: http://www.floridahealth.gov/programs-and-services/wic/nutrition-materials/eat-fish-choose-wisely/_documents/table-top-display.pdf. And the U.S. Food and Drug Administration offers a helpful pamphlet, at “Eating Fish: What Pregnant Women and Parents Should Know”

Happy holidays and happy fishing!

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