Florida Anglers: It's ON!

Submitted by Brett Fitzgerald on February, Feb 9, 2017

Your fish need you, and you can help.

In fact, we think you must. More changes in fishery management are coming. Most of us have been shouting for a change for years – some of us decades – especially in the way data is collected for recreational fisheries, and the way they are managed. In this case, change certainly can be good. But sitting on the sidelines now is a dangerous move. Here’s why.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) has opened the door to direct angler participation in stock assessments by supporting the development of SGF’s Angler Action Program (AAP). Since inception, the AAP has allowed anglers to contribute directly to stock assessments our Big Three inshore species – snook, redfish and seatrout.

This will continue, so long as we anglers continue to log, which is simple to do with the free iAngler mobile app. Download it onto your phone right now so you don’t forget. I’ll wait…

Welcome back.

The upcoming spotted seatrout stock assessment proves to be an interesting one, with many anglers around the state worried about the condition of stocks. Angler data will certainly play a part in the decisions of managers moving forward, as well other forms of stakeholder input. This is another blessing from FWC that we all need to appreciate and take advantage of – when they ask for your input, GIVE IT. Otherwise, their decision is based on partial information. Not logging data, and not participating in open meetings basically takes you out of the management discussion, which is foolish considering you – the anglers – collectively know more about what is happening on the water than any other entity. That includes the state, the feds, NGOs, or anyone else involved with fisheries.

Besides data on our regular targets, FWC has two very specific calls for help.

First, there is a lot of action right now regarding goliath grouper. You are sure to hear more about it in the coming months as FWC is moving forward with a plan to explore harvest options.

You read that right – depending on how a variety of factors play out, there might be an opportunity for a very limited, extremely controlled harvest of goliath. Don’t run out and buy an oversized shark rod just yet, as there is quite a bit of work to be done before a decision regarding harvest can even be made.

One aspect of that work is gathering data, which you, the angler, can easily provide. And you darn well should.  

Again, if we anglers pass on the opportunity FWC has given us to participate in data collection, shame on us. And when the discussion comes around regarding what to do with this fishery, if we have not contributed our part, we won’t have nearly as powerful a voice when we have discussions with the variety of other stakeholders and managers when the rubber meets the road.

It’s simple to do: When you catch a goliath grouper, click a photo (while it is in the water), and log it on your iAngler app. You can also log at www.angleraction.org – whatever floats your boat. They sync, and use the same username/password.

If you are targeting goliath and strike out, log that as a ‘zero catch’ – this is a critical part of the puzzle.

Remember, goliath are a 'no take' fish right now, and you can't boat them. Keep them in the water, and treat them with care as you release them. Try to remove your tackle and any other hooks you see in their mouth.

Questions about the goliath scenario? Email Brett@snookfoundation.org.

The other very specific ask by FWC is for a trio of Florida inshore favorites which don’t get the love they deserve: flounder, sheepshead, and tripletail.

These are what we call “data poor” fisheries. There just isn’t the volume of information for them that there is with other glamor fish. But they are most certainly just as important.

Again. You can - and should be - a huge part of the solution by simply logging your encounters with these fish in iAngler. And like goliath, log your ‘no catch’ trips.

This is our plea to you – SGF has invested countless time and in insane amount of capital in this program so we could provide anglers something they truly need. Download, register, and log. It's that simple, and it is that important.

You should feel a duty to log, and log honest, accurate information. Your rewards will be many, including a banging electronic log book that allows you to review your fishing history in powerful detail. Stick to it, and use your logs as part of your fishing trip planning, and I promise you will catch more fish.

Not familiar with what the AAP is all about? No problem – read on for a quick primer. If you already know this stuff, log off, open your new iAngler app, and go fishing.

PS – This one is for you, RT. Thanks for the motivation.

AAP History and Primer:

The Whats and Whys of the Angler Action Program

The AAP, which started in 2010, has been used in a variety of ways to improve Florida’s fishery management and habitats.

The original development of the AAP was in response to a need of the State of Florida. The southeast suffered an historic cold event that killed millions of South Florida’s native tropical and sub-tropical wildlife. Snook was one of the species which was devastated. Some of the areas most impacted were the extreme SW portion of the state, from Ft. Myers down through the Everglades, as well as the entire historic northern range of snook, from Tampa Bay across into Ft. Pierce.

The Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) was very concerned, and needed help assessing the damage. They reached out to the Snook and Gamefish Foundation (SGF), and asked us to have our anglers start recording data on their snook fishing trips.

Anglers started logging data on the snook they caught and released – information fishery managers refer to as ‘discard data.’

Discard data is particularly hard to come by when using traditional survey methods. Suddenly, through the AAP, FWC staff had access to large amounts of new data, including the size and location of discarded fish. Time spent targeting the fish and other details were also captured.

Complying with the mandate to use the ‘best data available,’ the researchers at the Florida Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) took the thousands of hours of angler data that SGF had collected and used it in an interim snook stock assessment that same fall (2010). For the first time anywhere in the country, data collected by recreational anglers was used directly in a stock assessment.

Dr. Robert Muller, head of FWRI’s marine stock assessment program, understood the immediate value of the data and asked SGF to expand the program to include all marine species. A mobile smart device application was created (iAngler), and fishermen and women were suddenly able to contribute data from their fishing trips for any species, anywhere in the country.

Since 2010, AAP data has been used in three snook stock assessments, the 2016 red drum assessment and the current (2017) sea trout assessment. The University of Florida recently published a study comparing AAP catch rates to those of the Marine Resources Information Program (MRIP) for snook, reds and trout in Florida and found that regions where anglers log frequently, the data compares extremely favorably (Fisheries Journal, December 2016).

The AAP has also been used by Palm Beach County to collect data on the specific location of anglers within the Lake Worth Lagoon. This demonstrated the functionality of the habitat restoration projects in the area, and provided needed data proving that the projects benefit the area in multiple ways – from increased fish species and fish sizes, to increased economic activities in the area.

To date, SGF has brought nearly 20,000 anglers into the electronic reporting world through the flagship iAngler app, spin-off tournament apps, and other ‘skins’ of the AAP which allow different clubs and businesses to collect valuable data. The most recent addition to the iAngler family, the Joe Bay Survey app, will allow fishing access to an area which has been closed to anglers for 35 years!

Moving forward, SGF and FWRI will continue to work together to improve the AAP product, and provide needed data for commonly targeted species as well as lesser-understood species such as tripletail, cobia, barracuda, and a variety of snappers and groupers.

Join SGF.