1:10 A.M. — State wildlife regulators have decided to extend restrictions on snook fishing until Sept. 1, 2011, in Everglades National Park and along Florida's Gulf Coast after thousands of the temperature-sensitive sport fish died during January's cold snap.
The Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission voted unanimously Thursday to extend a catch-and-release policy on snook in the state's west coast waters, but to reopen the east coast to snook harvest season Sept. 17.
Thousands of the fish perished here in January when overnight temperatures hovered around freezing for about two weeks, dropping water temperatures into the 50s.
Biologists say the snook population on the west coast was hit hardest and has been slower to recover.
Charter guide Jamie Allen of Boca Grande agrees with the commission's decision and thinks the ban should last even longer, until the end of 2011.
"The concerns should be what's best for the fish," Allen said, "and what's best for the fish is to leave it closed."
The snook population monitored in North Captiva and Cayo Costa is down about 70 percent since last summer, he said.
But Kenny Brown, owner of Outdoor Resorts of America in Chokoloskee, said he thinks the snook population has increased in his area.
"We got a lot of snook ," Brown said. "There's plenty of fish down here."
He feels the ban should be lifted and said it has crushed the economy in Chokoloskee.
According to his own observations, fishing trips are down about 75 percent in the town and the surrounding area from five or six years ago.
Fishermen have simply stopped coming, he said.
"You'd think they'd come to fish for all kinds of fish, but it seems like snook drives the industry," Brown said.
The main draw of snook is the fight, he said.
"It's an unbelievable fight when you get the fish on," Brown said. "When they hit, the explosion is something that shakes you, gets your heart pumping."
The taste isn't bad either, he said.
"It's a great-tasting fish, very little bones," Brown said. "People don't really give snook away."
Between July 1, 2009, and June 30, 164,887 people bought snook stamps (permits to keep snook) in Florida; 11,374 of those were bought by Lee County residents.