Chuck Gleichmann doesn’t mince words when he says, “The local fisheries have gone to crap.”
But it’s one thing to complain, and another to do something about it. So, the past president of the Flagler Sportfishing Club approached Mark Martindale, director of the University of Florida Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience, about restocking the redfish population in local waters.
Martindale and his team went into action.
On Feb. 9, after months of preparation, Whitney Laboratory, with the help of volunteers and local boat captains, released over 100,000 juvenile redfish in waters within a 15-mile radius of the facility.
“Chuck came to us with a need,” Martindale said. “We’re hoping we can make an impact by re-introducing local fish. This is the first time we are releasing fish in our backyard.”
Martindale said the project makes sense in this area, because the water quality is good.
“You can’t raise anything without good water,” he said. “We are lucky here in the Matanzas River and Pellicer Creek. This is the best estuary left in the state.”
The juvenile redfish were about 2.5 inches long and spawned from local broodstock.
“We didn’t induce spawning. We didn’t use hormones or chemicals or anything like that. We’re basically reintroducing the natural spawn into their natural environment.”
MARK MARTINDALE, Whitney Laboratory director
The broodstock were collected by marine biologist James Liao and his lab staff from the St. Augustine and Matanzas inlets. Leonardo Ibarra-Castro, who leads Whitney Laboratory’s aquaculture program, led a team that spawned the broodstock.
Martindale refers to Ibarra-Castro as “the fish whisperer,” because of his “magical” ability to raise fish.
Martindale said the broodstock were caught locally and spawned on a natural reproductive cycle.
“We didn’t induce spawning. We didn’t use hormones or chemicals or anything like that,” he said. “We’re basically reintroducing the natural spawn into their natural environment.”
The redfish were spawned in October, raised under controlled conditions and screened for diseases. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission granted the release permit.
Whitney Laboratory staff and volunteers hauled five-gallon buckets of the juvenile redfish from the facility’s 18,000-gallon flow-through tanks to the docks where about 15 boats were waiting to take them to protected areas within the designated boundary.
“It’s appealing to (the boat captains), because it’s a natural broodstock,” Martindale said. “These are local fish that were caught in this area and were going to spawn anyway, and we were able to increase the survival rate. The fishermen know their habitats. They (went) to their favorite places to release their fish, and that is invaluable information for us, because that will also help the survival rate.”
“(The boat captains went) to their favorite places to release their fish, and that is invaluable information for us, because that will also help the survival rate.”
Gleichmann said redfish grow rapidly, so within two or three years they will be of legal size, 18 to 27 inches.
A follow-up project could involve tracking the redfish, Martindale said. Liao leads up a redfish tagging program using sensors surgically implanted in the fish with acoustic monitors on dock and bridge pilings.
“We would love to track these 100,000 fish, but we can’t do it with the acoustic strategy, because every one of those sensors is like about $150,” Martindale said.
A molecular analysis to identify the fish’s genetics would be another option, but the laboratory doesn’t yet have the manpower or money to carry that out in a widespread way.
“If we felt we were making an impact, and we can continue the program in years to come, we would like, from an academic point of view and a practical point of view, to be able track the success rate of this program,” he said.