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Poaching and other threats to sport of fishing

By Capt. GEORGE TUNISON - | Mar 18, 2022

Capt. George Tunison

Fish poaching is big business here in Florida with individuals making $10K or more in a night’s work and the practice isn’t about to stop any time soon. Poachers usually work in teams with land-based or boat-based radio law enforcement spotters even making a grand a night supporting illegal gill netting operations for a variety of species.

Mullet are valued for their roe. A bust in Tampa by FWC officers found 6,000 pounds of mullet onboard with the row valued at $8,000 or more.

Recently a 48-foot commercial vessel was stopped with not one but nearly two tons of one of Florida’s best tasting fish, the pompano. Although commercial anglers are allowed up to 100 per day, considered as by-catch, this captain slightly exceeded his by-catch limit by 2,611 illegal fish, with many undersized. Recreational anglers are allowed to harvest up to 6 per day.

Without the fine work of Florida’s marine law enforcement personnel who put their lives on the line 24/7 to protect our natural resources, anglers would be hard pressed to find anything to fish for in local waters. If you see or suspect illegal gill netting or poaching, an anonymous call to the FWC is the right thing to do.

On a global scale, the illegal fish trade continues to grow where species like sharks are targeted just for their fins. The shark is caught and brought aboard, the fins are sliced off and the fish is kicked back into the sea to sink to the bottom and die which doesn’t seem to bother some restaurant patrons who gladly fork over big money for a bowl of clear broth and small slice of slimy fin. The demand for this product and the lure of easy money have taken a terrible toll on the world’s shark populations, by the most barbaric of means.

With political insanity at an all-time high along with the fuel prices, I just want to go fishing. Sadly, there’s trouble in our local fishing and boating paradise as well.

After being on local waters several times a week for the last 20 years, I’m sad to report on an ongoing environmental situation that has been growing for quite some time and a battle Matlacha Pass is rapidly losing.

Matlacha Pass and parts of Pine Island Sound are losing valuable sea grasses at a frighteningly fast pace to destructive algae mats that choke out everything and deplete the water of oxygen.

Dependable fishing spots that have produced fish year after year are now barren. Without healthy sea grasses, a healthy fishery cannot exist. These areas are the cradle of marine life as juvenile fish and invertebrates use them to hide from predators while growing to populate our waters.

Local septic tanks, excess nitrogen, phosphorus, Lake Okeechobee toxic discharges, even Peace River pollution, all feed Matlacha’s toxic algae blooms as well as feeding naturally occurring coastal red tides, making them even more destructive.

Obviously, controlling what gets into the water is the key but can it be done in time, before a real collapse occurs?

At the present rate of destructive algae takeover, especially in Matlacha Pass, it doesn’t look good.

With Southwest Florida growing so rapidly, with seemingly everyone bringing a boat, an army of new fishing guides each year all competing for the same fish, along with the algae problems and habitat loss, beautiful little Matlacha Pass will continue to be under siege.

If developers get the nod, the proposed Seven Islands project will start, which will include a 287-slip marina with all boats using the tiny spreader canal behind Miceli’s Restaurant in Matlacha to access the pass and gulf, along with all the residents’ boats docked in the Northwest Cape.

Imagine not 50, but a couple hundred more boats, the overcrowding, the over-fishing, more inevitable water pollution, all going into that little pass on a Saturday morning?

Not a pretty picture.

Capt. George Tunison is a Cape Coral resident fishing guide. Contact him at 239-282-9434 or captgeorget3@aol.com.