Catch and Release: A Management Tool for Florida
R. S. Nelson
The expansion of the population of the United States demographic trends, which have moved increasingly higher proportions of that population towards the southeastern coastal states, losses of critical habitat, years of unregulated fishing on saltwater finfish, and, of late, an expanding economy and increasing disposable income are factors that have combined to create a much larger population of anglers focused on decreasing our stable numbers of saltwater fish stocks. Florida is perhaps the prime example of this shifting of fishing effort on overfished stocks, primarily from commercial harvesting operations to recreational angling (Marston and Nelson 1994).
Prior to 1984, Florida had no agency with the authority to manage saltwater fisheries resources. Occasional regulation through the legislative process was undertaken reluctantly and often with mixed results. The Florida Marine Fisheries Commission (FMFC) began functioning in 1984 and was quickly faced with the reality that almost all recreationally popular fish species available in the coastal waters of Florida were in an overfished condition (Marston and Nelson 1994). Snook Centropomus undecimalis, red drum Sciaenops ocellatus, Spanish mackerel Scomberomorus maculatus, king mackerel S. cavalla, spotted seatrout Cynoscion nebulosus, black drum Pogonias cromis, and striped mullet Mugil cephalus stocks were subject to extensive regulation and rebuilding programs in the decade that followed (Marston and Nelson 1994). The use of extensive seasonal closures and low daily bag limits forced the issue of catchand- release practices early on in this process.