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.
Sign the Habitat is the Future of Florida Fisheries petition (https://www.bonefishtarpontrust.org/habitat/petition/) to express your support for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to collaborate with Bonefish & Tarpon Trust to create a new way to manage our fisheries that focuses on habitat. This includes habitat identification, habitat protection, habitat restoration, and incorporating habitat into fisheries management plans.
Nick Roberts, Director of Marketing & Communications, Editor, Bonefish & Tarpon Journal
Bonefish & Tarpon Trust • (786) 618-9479 • www.BTT.org