Florida Sea Grant Extension in Collier County

Welcome to the Collier County Sea Grant Extension Blog

This blog is an opportunity for me to share with you my extension outreach efforts and useful information to make you a more informed coastal citizen. If you have any questions about what you see, feel free to contact me at fluech@ufl.edu.

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Monday, February 20, 2012

Why does the commercial sector get to keep gag?

Image credit: Captain Tom Marvel
 Gag grouper has been a frequent headliner in recent months because of changes to the 2012 Gulf recreational fishing season. Needless to say recreational fishermen haven't been too happy with the rules.  Among other things, I have been getting questions regarding the commercial harvest of gag grouper in light of the new management actions. Specifically, why does the commercial sector still get to fish for gag if the recreational sector does not, and why are commercial fishermen now allowed to catch smaller gag than in the past?  Both are great questions, but first a little background.
  Based on the 2009 stock assessment NOAA fisheries determined the Gulf gag grouper stock was undergoing overfishing and overfished. As a result the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council was required, by law, to end the overfishing of gag within two years of this determination and rebuild stocks to sustainable levels within 10 years. The Council implemented Reef Fish Amendment 32 which established a schedule and strategy to rebuild gag stocks for both the recreational and commercial sectors.

As to why the commercial sector still gets to fish for gag, it helps to understand how the commercial grouper fishery is managed. The commercial harvest of Gulf grouper in the Gulf is managed under an Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) or “Catch Share” Program. In this system, fishermen own a number of limited shares that represent a percentage of each year’s annual catch limit instead of fishermen racing against one another to catch as much fish as they can during a defined season until a total quota is reached.  As long as fishermen don’t exceed their individual quotas, they can fish throughout the year in federal waters, which is where the majority of commercial grouper fishing occurs anyway. Therefore, it is possible to have commercial fishermen harvesting gag during a time period when recreational anglers are not.

To comply with the goals of the gag rebuilding plan, managers decided to set the commercial quota at 86% of their annual catch target. This adjustment was made because there are a limited number of gag shares available, and commercial fishermen who target other grouper species will inevitably continue to catch and discard gag under the limited IFQ system. Gag grouper is often caught by the commercial sector as bycatch while targeting red and other grouper species. Unlike red grouper, the commercial sector actually harvests less gag than the recreational sector does in the Gulf (61% goes to recreational vs. 39% to commercial).

In regards to why the commercial sector gets to harvest smaller fish, commercial fishermen, on average, fish for grouper in deeper waters, than recreational anglers. Fish caught in deeper water have a greater chance of dying upon release than fish caught in shallower waters. This is known as release mortality. According to the Gulf Council, gag release mortality in the commercial fishery can average 67%. The decision to decrease the commercial size limit of gag grouper from 24 to 22 inches was meant to reduce the gag release mortality rate, and prevent the wasteful discard of dead fish that would otherwise be thrown back because of a larger size limit. Because the fishery operates under an IFQ system where a fisherman cannot exceed his/her allotted share, a size limit reduction for the commercial sector would not equate to an increase in total commercial harvest.

If you would like to learn more about current grouper management efforts in the Gulf visit:http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/sf/pdfs/Gulf_Grouper_FAQs_021012.pdf

Monday, February 13, 2012

Have You Seen This Box Jelly?

I was recently sent an email from a colleague of mine at Rookery Bay regarding box jellyfish sightings in our area. Typically, when people hear "box jelly", they think of the highly venomous cnidarians found in Australia. However, there is also a box jellyfish that inhabits the waters of southern Florida. The tiny box jelly (Tripedalia cystophora) is  only a few centimeters in length and has clusters of three "pedalia" (tentacles) at each corner of its box-shaped body. It also has complex eyes which appear as small dark spots. Unlike its potentially lethal Australian cousins, this species is thought to be harmless to humans, and thrives in mangrove fringed waters of the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea. If you come across any of these, you are encouraged to report your sightings to Evan Orellana at e_orellan@hotmail.com or 954-675-5625. Click on the image below for details.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Recording of Florida Blue Crab Webinar

Did you know the blue crab fishery is one of Florida's top 10 commercial fishieres, and that in 2010 fishermen landed over 8 million pounds of the tasty crustacean worth an estimated $10.3 million? Want to learn more?

Today my colleagues kicked off the first session of our 2012 Florida Seafood Brown Bag Webinar Series. The purpose of the series is to: 1) educate seafood lovers about the sustainability and safety associated with some of Florida’smost commercially valuable seafood products & 2) help consumers make informed decisions about purchasing and eating Florida seafood.

Our first session was on Florida's blue crab fishery. We provided an overview of basic blue crab biology and life history, the importance of the blue crab fishery to the state and how its managed, and basic purchasing and handling practices. If you would like to view the recording of the webinar click HERE.*

*CORRECTION (2/18/12): I wanted to make you aware that I made a mistake during the blue crab webinar. When discussing the trend in commercial landings I made a comment that the drop in landings and trips was a result of (other than fluctuations in environmental factors)the 1998 moratorium on endorsement holders and the implementation of the blue crab effort management plan in 2007. This is not true. Dr. Ryan Gandy a research scientist with FWC's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, caught the mistake and helped clarify the issue. 
 "When catch is low trips follow suit as crabbers put less effort to crabbing when they are negative financial returns due to low crab abundance, during low rainfall years. There is a big coincidence of the low rainfall, low landings and reduced trips all occurring when management action occurred. When the moratorium on new licenses went into effect this did not reduce the number of fishers in the fishery; it merely held that number at the existing level by not issuing new endorsements. When the effort management and trap tag program went into effect (2007) it facilitated the removal of unused latent endorsements but these (as implied) were not fished. We now have a known number of fished endorsements and traps. Only latent effort has been reduced."

The program we use is called Blackboard Collaborate. To make sure you have the necessary software to view and listen to the webinar, please visit: http://support.blackboardcollaborate.com/ics/support/default.asp?deptID=8336&task=knowledge&questionID=1251

 Let us know how we did!
 If you watch the recording, we'd love to get your feedback. Below is a link to a short survey that will provide us feedback about the session. https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/NDQHTH2

Finally, if you would like to view the recordings of past webinars click HERE.

During the webinar, we provided several blue crab-related resources. I've included the URL's below as well.

Florida blue crab recreational fishing regulations:

Preparing Blue Crab: A seafood delicacy

Blue crab life Service history and processing video from the University of Georgia Marine Extension: 

Blue crab educator resources  from the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center:  http://www.serc.si.edu/education/resources/bluecrab/

Youtube video on peeler crabs and shedding tanks:                                       http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3BnyWoMryp4

Blue crab buying information and  recipes from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services: 

Friday, February 3, 2012

Jimmy, Sook, and Sally

Image credit: Bryan Fluech
The blue crab, or Callinectes sapidus, is a common inhabitant of Florida's estuaries and can be found in a variety of fresh, brackish, and saltwater habitats. This highly sought after crustacean helps support a multi-million dollar commercial fishery, and is also a popular catch for many recreational fishermen.

Image credit: FWC
In Florida, egg-bearing females are illegal to take as they obviously play an essential role in sustaining blue crab populations. These crabs are easy to identify by the large gray to orange mass cradled underneath the crab in its abdomen or "apron." Each sponge can hold millions of eggs. While it is not illegal to harvest females that do not have eggs with them, many fishermen chose not to harvest any females because of their importance to the fishery. Fortunately, by looking at the color of the claw tips and shape of the apron, fishermen can easily distinguish between male and female crabs.

 A male blue crab is known as a "Jimmy." They have blue tipped claws and their apron can be described as being shaped like the Washington monument or an inverted "T". Jimmies can be found throughout the estuary and also travel in to fresh water.

Image credits: FWC

An immature female blue crab is called a "Sally" or "she crab". Like a mature female she will have orange to red-colored claw tips, but the shape of her apron is different. The apron of a sally is triangle-shaped. It can also be thought of as an  inverted "V". Because she has not reached sexual maturity yet, the apron will be tightly sealed.

Image credits: FWC
Finally, a mature female blue crab is known as a "Sook". She too will have orange to red-colored claw tips, but her apron is more bell shaped. It is often said it likes the dome of the U.S capital building. She will hold her eggs (or sponge) within this apron. Females crabs can be found throughout the estuary as well as offshore in higher salinities.
Image credit: FWC

If you would like to learn more about blue crabs visit: www.bluecrab.info/