Mote Snook Shindig

Mote Snook Shindig catches valuable fisheries data
Mote Marine in Sarasota, Florida, has an on-going snook rearing, stocking and tagging program, and each year recreational anglers assist in the research–by fishing!

By Hayley Rutger, Mote Marine
from The Fishing Wire

More than 40 anglers participated in the 2017 William R. Mote Memorial Snook Shindig, a research-based catch, sample and release tournament on Nov. 3-4. This unique tournament involves the public in monitoring for snook released in fisheries enhancement studies.

Jennifer Castilow and Dr. Nate Brennan of Mote Marine Laboratory measure a snook. Credit Cheri Tardif.
Snook are one of the most sought-after catches in Florida’s saltwater recreational fishing industry, which draws more than $7 billion to the economy annually. However, increased fishing pressure, habitat loss, and natural challenges such as cold weather and red tides have contributed to declines in snook populations. Thus, for more than 30 years, Mote Marine Laboratory and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) scientists have partnered in research designed to evaluate whether hatchery-raising and releasing snook into the wild can be an effective fishery management tool.

“The Snook Shindig is the only scientific tournament in which anglers focus on hatchery-reared and wild common snook,” said Dr. Kenneth Leber, Mote Senior Scientist. “Our goal is to estimate the contribution of previously tagged-and-released snook to the Sarasota Bay snook fishery, and to learn valuable information such as how different habitats affect snook growth, survival and migration patterns. Our research and this important tournament can help us understand how stock enhancement may help this snook population recover from large mortalities in the wild.”

Over decades, Mote scientists have released more than 61,000 snook into Sarasota-area waters. Past Snook Shindig results have revealed that changes in snook-release strategies, based on Mote pilot studies, have improved survival of stocked snook by as much as 200 percent.

Snook born and raised at Mote Aquaculture Research Park (MAP) in eastern Sarasota County are fitted with passive integrated transponder (PIT) tags and released for research on responsible restocking practices. PIT tags provide a “barcode” identifying individual fish and containing other specific data, which can be “read” using a special scanner.

During this year’s Snook Shindig, 224 snook were caught and released. Though none of these were recaptured fish with Mote tags, all fish caught, measured and released yielded valuable data.

“From this year’s fish, we’re able to learn about the size distribution of the fishery in our area,” said Dr. Ryan Schloesser, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Mote. “If we don’t see our hatchery snook in the catch, that may mean that there are far more wild snook out there — so they’re likelier to be caught — and it may also mean that our hatchery-raised snook haven’t yet grown to the sizes likeliest to be caught in the area of the tournament. We think it’s a combination of these factors. We released 5,620 PIT-tagged snook in the past two years, and they may just need to mature into the size being caught. We hope to find out at our future Snook Shindigs!”

During the Nov. 4 awards dinner in Mote Marine Laboratory’s WAVE Center on City Island, Sarasota, Mote President & CEO Dr. Michael P. Crosby greeted guests.

“Thank you all for making this a memorable, meaningful Snook Shindig by fulfilling the essential role of citizen scientists,” Crosby said. “For more than 60 years, Mote’s independent researchers have worked with caring and knowledgeable community members like you to bridge our scientific discoveries with local, traditional knowledge and decision making at all levels, to support conservation and sustainable use of natural resources. You are part of a time-honored tradition that aims to preserve this beloved fishery for future generations. We couldn’t succeed without you.”

Crosby recognized presenting sponsors Carol and Barney Barnett, who have donated $3 million to help Mote implement its Fisheries Conservation & Enhancement Initiative — a science-based, community-wide, grassroots partnership initiative aimed at fisheries conservation and sustainable use in Sarasota Bay. The Barnetts’ leadership gift challenges others to match this critical support toward this important initiative.

To support Mote’s Fisheries Conservation & Enhancement Initiative, contact Erin Kabinoff at ekabinoff@mote.org or (941) 388-4441, ext. 309.

Crosby also recognized two pioneering senior scientists at Mote: Dr. Ken Leber, manager of Mote’s Fisheries Ecology & Enhancement Program, and Dr. Kevan Main, manager of Mote’s Marine & Freshwater Aquaculture Research Program, for their tireless and visionary efforts to improve snook aquaculture and enhance this critical fishery. Leber and Main were presented with fish art prints by Steve Whitlock.

Mote fisheries scientists thanked and recognized the entire team of dedicated volunteers, sponsors and attendees who helped make this year’s Snook Shindig possible, including Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission staff in attendance, fisheries conservation advocate Capt. Scotty Moore, this year’s featured artist for the Snook Shindig graphic, Steve Whitlock, and others (full sponsor list below).

“It was exciting to see a real range of ages participate as citizen scientists; many of the youth came up to give us a big hug and said they are going to go fishing next weekend,” said Mote staff scientist Carole Neidig, who coordinated the team effort for this year’s successful event.

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