The former Florida Department of Natural Resources began
development of a saltwater hatchery and initiated a stock
enhancement program in 1985.
The hatchery, called Stock
Enhancement Research Facility (SERF), is part of the Florida
Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). It is the only
state-operated hatchery raising saltwater fish. SERF began raising
fish in 1988; the first fingerlings it raised were released in
Volusia county in December of that year. Since, approximately over
six million redfish (red drum) have been released at eight
different locations around the state. With few exceptions, the
success of these releases was not clearly determined because the
people and money to track the fish unavailable.
Beginning in early 1998 all of that changed as the Marine
Stock Enhancement Advisory Board (MSEAB) was formed. The MSEAB is
comprised of 12 persons with strong ties to the recreational
fishing community; they are the angler's voice in how marine stock
enhancement is conducted in Florida. The MSEAB meets periodically
with FWC scientists to plan strategies and make decisions on
stocking issues. At the first MSEAB meeting in May 1998, it was
decided to discontinue redfish releases in all areas of the
state and conduct a stocking project in Tampa Bay to clearly
determine the appropriate size fish to release to achieve the most
benefit for the money spent. Project Tampa Bay was born.
Project Tampa Bay has two goals:
- To determine the optimal size of fish as well as where and when
to release that fish to have the greatest impact for the money
- To increase the number of redfish caught by anglers in Tampa
Bay by 25 percent.
Marine stock enhancement, raising saltwater fish in a hatchery
and releasing them, isn't new. In the U. S., it has been tried in
one form or another for over 100 years. What is new is most of the
technology and a well-defined responsible approach. In 1995, two
eminent marine scientists published a paper titled "A Responsible
Approach to Marine Stock Enhancement." This paper outlines ten
guidelines for a responsible stock enhancement program. The
guidelines are designed to ensure that we do not harm the ecosystem
or wild fish stocks while we are trying to improve recreational
fishing opportunities. The FWC Fisheries Stock Enhancement program
is committed to the responsible approach guidelines.
What is the responsible approach? Quite simply, it is conducting
stock enhancement in a manner that utilizes state-of-the-art
technology and all available knowledge to prevent harming wild
stocks or the ecosystem. At the same time, a mechanism must be in
place to identify potentially harmful effects if they begin to
occur. Harmful effects from stock enhancement can take many forms.
One potential harmful effect is an altered or diluted genetic
makeup of the population being enhanced. This could result from
inbreeding or inadequate numbers of brood stock (adult fish) being
used to produce the young fish for stocking. Another potential
harmful effect is the transmission of disease form hatchery fish to
wild fish. Neither of these is particularly easy to manage and
doing so adds cost to any stock enhancement program.
FWC considers the management of genetics and health, as well as
other components of the responsible approach, critical to the
success of stock enhancement in Florida.