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Marine Stock Enhancement in Florida

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.