Blog for the week of October 21, 2012
Sarasota, Florida is known for the circus, the Ringling family, Siesta Key Beach-touted the world’s best by more than one rating service- and that old joke:
“Everybody’s parents live in Boca Raton. THEIR parents live in Sarasota.” BADUMPBUMP-TSSSSH
But it is also home to The Mote Marine Laboratories, started by Bill Mote, as everyone still calls him as if he were just upstairs in his office, back in 1955. He talked famed shark expert Dr. Eugenie Clarke into running the lab and to this day it is one of the foremost shark research facilities in the world.
Radio Green Earth was in Sarasota all last week at Mote Labs for a conference on the state of the saltwater fishery, and this week’s radio program originates from Mote labs. We were a guest of The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, which hosted the event. The TRCP has a simple but significant mission- to guarantee all Americans quality places to hunt and fish by strengthening laws, policies and practices affecting fish and wildlife conservation by leading partnerships that influence decision makers.
I was joined by representatives of the outdoor industry, writers for such publications as Florida Sportsmen, Outdoor Life, Field and Stream. We heard presentations by Orvis which sponsored the event, as well as Eric Schwabb, head of NOAA fisheries, Dr. Bob Heuter, head of shark research at Mote, and many others, AND they took us fishing.
Yes, you give outdoor journalists some free food AND a fishing trip and you own them. They had me at the line “Who wants to fish?” which Captain Jonnie Walker (yes that’s his real name) blurted out as he charged through the door at the Sarasota Hyatt at 0600. He and a dozen other charter skippers were waiting at the docks for us writers, and they showed us a Hell of a good time. I fished with Walker, which was like old home week. I started writing about the environment while working at WWSB TV in Sarasota, and Jonnie was a frequent guest on my fishing news segment. When I left town Jonnie took over the program and has been entertaining Sarasota with delightful and insightful conservation oriented fishing stories for the twenty years since I left.
It was good to be on the water again with him, and good for fishing too. Jonnie squired Jeff Weakly of Florida Sportsman Magazine, Charley Levine of BDoutdoors.com and myself on a short trip to nearshore reefs off of Lido and Siesta Keys. As the sun rose we could see a cloud of gulls diving just off Big Pass, and we went to investigate. It seems there has been a plethora of pelagic predators in the area, and they were all there feeding on giant balls of bait that were so thick, they stirred up clouds of sand in the shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
First we netted some of the huge mass of bait, chubby small white bait-a kind of Herring Jonnie told me. Then we drifted through the bait clouds and free lined amidst huge balls of swirling baitfish. You knew when you were going to get a strike, because the Spanish mackerel were slashing the surface as they chased the bait. Then as you pulled a mackerel to the boat, it would be hit by a Black Tip Shark, or a King Mackerel and then you had a real tussle on your hands.
The fishing was fast and furious, and in just three hours we caught and released at least a couple dozen Spanish, a few Kings and a dozen Shark in the 20-30 pound range. It was fast and furious fishing. I asked Jonnie about this large presence of big predators and he surmises that the outbreak of Red Tide to the South has forced the pelagic predators North and Sarasota fisher people have been the beneficiaries.
That may be the short version, but the longer story is that Sarasota Bay has leapt back to life after restoration efforts have cleaned up the place and the sea grasses have returned. That combined with the Florida net ban amendment recreational anglers helped pass fifteen years ago has restored the once dwindling fish populations in the area.
That’s just one of many lessons we learned last week. For more on the Saltwater Summit, tune into Radio Green earth this week. You will hear about a fascinating trip to Cuba by shark scientists and how the removal of old oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico will actually hurt fishing in the Gulf….all this week on Radio Green Earth, which you can access in many ways including three radio stations, and right here on our website where you can listen live or download the podcast.