Saltwater fishing in Florida is surprisingly good in spite of all of the obstacles anglers face.
Bureaucrats at all levels of government do their best to make things tough for fishermen. From increased fees for citizens to launch their boats at public ramps, regulations that are either too restrictive or too lax, and to environmental issues that are overblown or ignored.
I’ve been covering the outdoors in South Florida for more than 20 years for the Sun Sentinel newspaper in Fort Lauderdale. Some fishing has improved dramatically since I arrived from upstate New York, while fishing for other species has suffered.
One constant during that time: recreational anglers rarely get any credit for the good stuff, but they almost always get the blame for the bad stuff.
For example, the quality of South Florida’s coral reefs has declined, in large part due to pollution and poor water quality. Yet recreational anglers and scuba divers get almost all the blame from agencies and groups that are in favor of marine protected areas, or MPAs, which would keep people out. There is no talk of having Florida’s water management districts limit the amount of polluted freshwater they let loose during and after heavy rainstorms and hurricanes. Much of that water in South Florida goes out to inlets, which hurts reefs and everything that depends on them.
An even worse situation is currently taking place in Stuart, where two of the best inshore fisheries in the state, the St. Lucie River and the Indian River, have been plagued by nasty freshwater being released from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie.
Before a dike was built around the lake, and what used to be the northern Everglades was converted into farmland, when the lake got high, the water overflowed and gently seeped to the south.
Now when the water gets high in Lake Okeechobee – much of it coming from Orlando after a rain event and flowing south through the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes and the Kissimmee River into the northern end of the lake – the South Florida Water Management District sends it southeast to Stuart and southwest down the Caloosahatchee River to Fort Myers rather than letting it flow south and impacting sugar cane and vegetable growers.
The dirty water has negatively impacted seagrass, fish and fishing, yet the state allows it to continue, essentially saying that it has no other choice.
Poor water quality that affects coral, sea grass and fish populations also is an issue in Biscayne Bay and Florida Bay, parts of which are in national parks and under federal jurisdiction. The feds’ reponse? Limit boaters and anglers.
Then there is the problem of lionfish. Some of these aquarium fish were dumped in the ocean off South Florida in the mid-1980s. Now the invasive fish, which are native to the South Pacific and Indian Ocean, are everywhere: on reefs, in the Atlantic Ocean as deep as 1,000 feet, the Loxahatchee River, Indian River, and Florida Bay.
Lionfish eat the young of important native species such as snappers and hogfish and have no predators. Divers have been taking it upon themselves to kill as many lionfish as they can while fisheries managers contemplate what to do. Unless they take decisive action, lionfish will eventually decimate recreational fish species in Florida.