Tired of looking for bait for hours before you can go fishing?

I wrote to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission Chairman, David Meehan, a few uears ago with a request to take up the bait purse seining issue at the Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting as soon as they could put it on the agenda. I attached the National Marine Fisheries Service landings statistics for bait fish on the west coast of Florida showing dramatic decreases in all landings over the ten year period from 1989 to 1999 (click here to see the tables). The reason I did this, in case you have not seen any of my other articles on this issue, is that in the Tampa Bay area we are short on bait fish. there are virtually no large schools of threadfin herring, scaled sardines, Spanish sardines, or even scad (cigar minnows) to be found within a ten mile radius of the mouth of Tampa Bay.

At the height of our fishing season, with water temperatures absolutely perfect for all our game and baitfish, we do not have enough baitfish to hold the gamefish in the area. Now before you E-mail me and tell me that you have seen lots of bait offshore on your last fishing trip, I'm talking about the difference in the bait populations over the last ten to twenty years, not just over the last month or so. You used to be able to see bait schools off the beaches all over this area, usually accompanied by huge flocks of brown pelicans and gulls feeding in a frenzy. Now it's hard to even find a few pelicans on the Gulf and harder yet to find any bait fish to use for your fishing trip.

Pinellas, Hillsborough, and Manatee Counties are the only three on the west coast of the state in which purse seining is allowed. The reason for this goes back to the days when the legislature was mis-managing our fish stocks and commercial fish house money ruled (see a short history of bait fish mis-management).

Commissioner Meehan forwarded my landing statistics and letter to the Florida Marine Research Institute in St. Petersburg to get a response from the state's marine biologist, "bait expert". The response I received is here (click to see the letter). There are a few points in the letter that make this response ridiculous to me.

The first statement that knocked me down was that "the increase in Spanish and king mackerel adult biomass by reducing fishing pressure through recent management regulations can result in significant reduction in biomass of the sardine-herring groups." That means that the fish are eating all the bait! It's obvious that he doesn't realize that the king mackerel population has been reduced to a trickle on this coast. The next statement is that "It is more likely that environmental changes (drought, improving Tampa Bay water quality) and increases in predator populations are preventing major improvements in baitfish stocks, particularly Spanish sardine and menhaden in the Tampa Bay area."
So we cleaned up the water and all the baitfish left!

The entire letter is here for you to read and judge for yourself. Remember that the marine biologists were the ones that said we had no problem with the inshore stocks of mullet, trout, etc. for years and prevented any meaningful management until we passed the constitutional amendment to remove the gill nets from state waters.

We now need to organize and contact all the Fish and Wildlife Commissioners and every state politician that we can call or write in order to stop this waste of our precious bait resources. If you hope to see gamefish in this area and have fish left for you and your children to enjoy, contact the commissioners and legislators NOW!

Capt. Charlie Walker

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