Fly Life Magazine

Will we allow Florida to become a sport fishers paradise lost?

Habitats need to be healthy to promote good fly fishing opportunities. Image credit BTT.

Saving Florida’s fishery habitats is more than a good idea for sports fishers

Jim McDuffie, president & CEO of Bonefish & Tarpon Trust.

From secluded mangrove creeks to expansive seagrass flats, healthy habitats are vital to the health of our flats 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% over the past 20 years.

The only way to protect our 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 we are seeing today are a direct result of the habitat loss Florida has suffered in the past.

No amount of regulation can prevent further decline to the flats fishery unless we begin incorporating habitat into fisheries management plans. Steps must be taken 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. We call on you as anglers and guides to be the voice for healthy habitats.

To learn more, please visit HABITAT

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