Support the inclusion of habitat in fisheries management

■ SUBMITTED BY BONEFISH & TARPON TRUST

Whether you fish for bonefish, tarpon, permit or any other species, it is important to understand the vital role of habitat in our fisheries. The current marine fisheries management model uses regulations such as size limits and seasonal closures to manage harvest. That’s not enough. The amount of healthy habitat we have determines the number of fish we have. Habitat is the future of our fisheries, and anglers are the voice for habitat. Bonefish & Tarpon Trust calls on anglers, guides and other stakeholders to sign the “Habitat is the Future of Florida Fisheries” petition and to contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to voice their support for prioritizing habitat conservation.

From secluded mangrove creeks to expansive seagrass flats, healthy habitats are vital to the health of Florida’s fisheries. Unfortunately, a staggering amount of Florida’s coastal habitat has been decimated by development, pollution and altered freshwater flows. Florida Bay has lost one-third of its seagrass, while Tampa Bay has lost nearly half of its mangrove forests. In the Indian River Lagoon, mosquito ditches and impoundments hinder fish access and have greatly reduced the amount of usable nursery habitat. In the Keys, the number of flats classified as “severely degraded” due to propeller scarring has increased 90 percent over the past 20 years.

The only way to protect Florida’s fisheries from further decline is to conserve and restore what habitat remains. Of special concern are the places juvenile fish reside, which are often in close proximity to areas impacted by human development. For many species, the amount of healthy nursery habitat determines the size of the adult population. This means that many of the declines in fish populations that are evident today are a direct result of the habitat loss Florida has suffered in the past.

“Regulation alone cannot prevent further decline to our flats fishery,” said BTT president and CEO Jim McDuffie. “The role of healthy habitats must also be incorporated into FWC’s fisheries management plans, including steps to identify and assess critical habitats, to protect those that are intact, to restore those that are degraded, and to effectively manage them all. If we fail, fish populations will continue to decline, regardless of the regulations created to safeguard them.”

BTT urges anglers and guides to be the voice for healthy habitats by signing the “Habitat is the Future of Florida Fisheries” petition and contacting FWC to let the Commission know that anglers support BTT’s new collaboration with FWC to include habitat as a central component of fisheries management.To learn more, please visit: btt.org/habitat.

BTT’s mission is to conserve bonefish, tarpon and permit – the species, their habitats and the larger fisheries they comprise. As a science-based organization, BTT pursues this mission across the southeastern U.S., the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean through research, conservation, education and advocacy.