Thursday, 31 March 2011

Gulf grouper recreational season opens April 1

Who's ready for some grouper fishing in the Gulf?

Taken from a March 25th, 2011 FWC press release:

The recreational harvest of shallow-water groupers in Gulf of Mexico state and federal waters off Florida, except in all waters of Monroe County, reopens on April 1. However, the recreational harvest of gag grouper is still prohibited in Gulf federal waters off Florida (beyond nine nautical miles from shore). Also, persons on federally permitted for-hire reef fish vessels may not harvest or possess gag grouper in both federal and state Gulf waters (within nine nautical miles from shore).

The Gulf recreational shallow-water grouper fishery (gag, black, red, yellowfin, scamp, yellowmouth, rock hind and red hind) has been closed since Feb. 1 to protect gag grouper, which are often found and caught with the other grouper species. This two-month closure during Gulf grouper spawning season helps to reduce overfishing of gag grouper and rebuild its populations so that larger annual harvests may be possible in the future.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission also reminds fishermen that the recreational and commercial harvest of shallow-water groupers (including gag, black grouper, red grouper, scamp, red hind, rock hind, coney, graysby, yellowfin grouper, yellowmouth grouper, and tiger grouper) remains closed until May 1 in all Atlantic Ocean and Monroe County waters.
More information regarding grouper fishing regulations (including size limits, bag limits and fishing seasons) and proposed changes to Gulf gag grouper fishing seasons is available online at

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Spring 2011 Florida Master Naturalist Program Underway!

Today my colleagues from Rookery Bay and I held our first Florida Master Naturalist Program class of 2011. We are teaching the coastal module, which of course as a marine science extension agent, is my personal favorite! We have a very energetic and engaged group; I'm looking forward to getting to know them over the next two weeks. The first day is always the hardest as its mostly classroom work, but this group hung in like real champs! We did start the day off with a tour of Rookery Bay's Environmental Learning Center so they could get a better perspective of where they were and the importance of the Reserve to SW Florida.  Enjoy some of today's pictures, and stay tuned for more posts as we progress with the course!

Participants introducing themselves in class this morning
Rookery Bay Research Translator Renee Wilson showing the group the boundaries of the reserve.

Class getting an aerial view of Henderson Creek behind the Environmental Learning Center.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Are You Smarter than a Stone Crab?

Did you know....
There are 2 species of stone crabs in Florida? It's legal to remove both claws from a stone crab if they meet the minimal size limit (2-3/4 inches)? Stone crab season is Oct 15th-May 15th? If you answered yes to any of these questions, than you can certainly say you ARE smarter than a stone crab!!
Today I held my first "Are You Smarter than a Stone Crab?" tour, and by all accounts, I'd say it was a success! We had 33 people in attendance. First I gave a presentation on stone crab biology and ecology as well as an overview of the stone crab fishery. Next the group sampled some fresh locally caught stone crab claws, which they seemed to enjoy! (I know of at least 2 people that had claws for the first time.)  The group also sampled some blue crab claws as well so they could compare the difference.
Following the presentation and sampling, we visited Grimm's Stone Crabs Inc, a local stone crab processor in Everglades City. Justin Grimms, the son of owner Howie Grimms, showed the group how stone crab claws are cooked and processed at their facility. He also discussed what it was like to work in the stone crab industry. Justin was extremely knowledgeable and did a FANTASTIC job! I can't thank him or Howie enough for letting our group visit their facility and talk to us about their line of work. He must of made an impression as several people bought claws from their market!
This was the first time I did this program, and based on the feedback I've already received, I plan to do it again in the future. Its a great opportunity for citizens to learn about their local fisheries and meet with people working in the industry.

Going back for seconds!

Sampling locally caught stone crab claws

Nothing beats fresh seafood!

Justin Grimms discussing what its like to be in the stone crab business

Justin Grimms demonstrating how claws are cooked.

Justin explains the importance of monitoring temperature when the claws are cooked.

After cooking the claws, Justin discusses how claws are graded based on weight.

Justin showing some of the tools they use to crack claws.

Justin discusses with the group how each claw is weighed.

Justin shows a few participants the differences between medium, large, and jumbo claws.

After  claws are cooked they are quickly cooled down to prevent the meat from sticking inside of the shell.

Some of the participants checking out fresh batch of claws right off the boat.

Showing off a nice sized claw!

Several of the participants bought claws from the Grimm's market. We kept Justin very busy.
Here his is very quickly cracking claws.

Gotta love endorsements like this!

Monday, 28 March 2011

Learning More about Venting and Recompression

Recently scientists and fisheries managers  met in Atlanta to evaluate the difficult problem of increasing the survival of fish caught from deep water. These fish are particularly susceptible to mortality from barotrauma, the bloat and internal organ damage caused by pressure change.

New research findings from the West Coast and elsewhere indicate that the survival of these fish can be significantly increased using a variety of methods that quickly return the fish to depth while minimizing injury. Research shows high survival rates for rockfish in depths up to 300 feet. (Watch this dramatic video of the release of a yelloweye rockfish.)
Participants concluded the best methods for ensuring survival entail using a recompression technique that safely returns the fish to depths, minimizing injury. One crate recompression device is illustrated at this link. Recompression is the preferred option. Venting fish can also be a useful method to return fish to depth. Evidence has shown that it can be helpful for some species, but the research for many other species is either lacking or inconclusive.
To learn more details about the barotrauma workshop visit:

Friday, 25 March 2011

NOAA, FDA continue to re-test Gulf seafood and post results online

King Mackerel harvested from the Gulf of Mexico.
NOAA, FDA continue to re-test Gulf seafood and post results Sampling in last closed area also underway

NOAA continues to re-test seafood from the Gulf of Mexico to demonstrate to American and worldwide consumers that it is safe to eat, and announced today it will continue this re-testing into the summer.
Before waters were opened to fishing, NOAA and FDA extensively tested seafood from those waters, and NOAA has now completed two additional rounds of sampling and testing from each of those reopened areas. Thousands of test results, all publicly available, prove Gulf seafood is safe from oil and dispersant contamination.
In June 2010, NOAA, FDA and the Gulf states agreed upon an extensive sampling and testing procedure. Areas once closed to fishing were reopened only when all seafood sampled in the area passed both the established sensory and chemical testing for oil and dispersant.
“Gulf seafood is consistently passing FDA’s safety tests by a wide margin,” said Eric Schwaab, assistant NOAA administrator in charge of NOAA’s Fisheries Service. “We are continuing to test, and we are making the data available to the public, so they can make fully informed purchasing decisions.”
“The system set up to keep tainted seafood out of circulation has worked,” said Don Kraemer, acting deputy director for FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “Consumers should know that Gulf seafood is extensively tested and is safe to eat.”
The nearly 500 samples in the two rounds of post-opening testing are comprised of more than 4,300 fish and shrimp, since a sample consists of multiple individuals. They are a representative sample of the commercially and recreationally important fish in the Gulf, and cover the 87,481 square miles of the Gulf that have been reopened to fishing. The specific locations, dates of sampling, species type, and test results are available publicly for each of the samples.
“Increased testing, and communicating about the increased testing, is vital for Gulf fishermen and the Gulf economy, and for consumers,” said David Krebs, a commercial fisherman and president of the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders Alliance. “It's important to show that our seafood has been proven safe time and time again.”
Funding for the ongoing testing comes from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, operated by the U.S. Coast Guard, which is available to finance clean-up costs that responsible parties are ultimately required to pay. The government continues to bill responsible parties regularly for the reimbursement of these costs.
An area covering 1,041 square miles immediately surrounding the wellhead still remains closed to all commercial and recreational fishing. NOAA will use an FDA-approved plan to begin sampling the closed area on March 12, and will announce the reopening of the area if all the samples pass the established sensory and chemical tests.
The first fishing area closure was instituted on May 2, 2010, covering about 3 percent (6,817 square miles) of Gulf waters around the wellhead. As oil continued to spill from the wellhead, the area grew in size, peaking at 37 percent (88,522 square miles) of Gulf waters on June 2.

(from NOAA press release March 24, 2011)

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

NOAA Protected Species Safe Handling, Release, and Identification Workshop

A sample of gear required for
commercial longliners/gillnetters
to minimize impacts on
marine life.

This morning I participated in a NOAA Protected Species Safe Handling, Release, and Identification Workshop in Clearwater, FL. According to NOAA, "these workshops are designed to educate longline and gillnet fishermen on the proper techniques for safe handling and release of entangled or hooked protected species, such as sea turtles, marine mammals, and smalltooth sawfish. The identification of protected species is also taught at these workshops to help improve the accuracy of reporting." The workshop is required for all commercial vessel owners and operators who hold permits for highly migratory species such as shark or swordfish who use longlines or gillnets.  Obviously I am not a commercial fishermen and to date, I haven't even worked with any longliners, but since a lot of my extension work focuses on fisheries, I have found it to to be a good training to keep me up to date on some of the gear and techniques used by the industry to minimize impact on protected species they come in contact with while fishing. Its also a unique opportunity to meet and interact with fishermen from around the state. Although the workshop is required by NOAA, it is actually taught by Angler Conservation Education, a non-profit organization out of Daytona, FL- (386) 682-0158 who is subcontracted by NOAA fisheries. This was the second time I've taken the training and I knew the instructors, so it was nice to catch up with them as well.The workshop consisted of presentations, instructional videos as well as hands-on training on how to use various dehooking devices; We practiced removing hooks from simulated sea turtles-cardboard boxes! My goal is to share what I learned at today's training with my fisheries stakeholders in the future. Enjoy the video and pictures!

Kristen Raabe with Angler Conservation Education demonstrates how to remove a hook from a "sea turtle" (aka the square box kind) that has been hooked, but not entangled by  fishing gear, and would be too large to bring aboard a boat.

A commercial fisherman from Panama City, FL practices removing a "deeply swallowed" hook  using a Scotty's dehooking tool.

Each of the participants had to try out the various dehooking tools.

We each took turns dehooking the "box" sea turtle.

A commercial longliner practices using an ARC dehooking tool.

In this scenario the "turtle" is entangled, but not hooked. My partner first secures the loose hook with a long-poled dehooker to prevent it from injuring the animal,  while I use a line cutter to remove the entangled line.

Kristen Raabe from ACE shows the group how to tether a turtle around its flipper (shoulder) so it can be secured by the side of the boat and any gear removed.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Catch of the Day- Juvenile Goliath Grouper!

Today I had the privilege of teaching sixty-two fifth graders from Boca Raton about our local coastal marine life. After a morning of seine netting at Tigertail Beach I helped teach an oyster exploration lab. My colleague and I had the students examine several oyster clumps and identify the different types of species they found in and around the oysters. My highlight of the day came when gathering up the oysters in preparation of the lab. Among the oysters I found a juvenile goliath grouper! It was the smallest one I've ever seen. It is amazing to think these fish can get over 500 pounds! Goliath grouper spend the first several years (to be more specific, approximately five years) of their lives in our mangrove-lined estuaries where they feed and seek refuge among the root systems of red mangroves. The oysters I collected were no more than three or four feet from mangroves along Henderson Creek. Once they get about three feet in length they move offshore where many anglers encounter them while fishing on natural and artificial reefs.

To learn more about goliath grouper visit:
Florida Museum of Natural History Ichthyology Department
Florida State University, Coleman and Koenig Laboratory

Webinar Recording: "Florida's Shrimp Fishery"

Pink shrimp stored in a fish house
 freezer in Ft. Myers, Fl
Did you know shrimp are Florida's most valuable and popular seafood commodity?
Yesterday my colleagues and I completed our 3rd session of our Florida Seafood Brown Bag Webinar Series-"Florida's Shrimp Fishery." The goals of the presentation were to: 1.Increase audience's knowledge of the characteristics associated with the different kinds of shrimp harvested in Florida, 2. Enhance their understanding of how the shrimp fishery is managed in Florida, and 3. Provide participants with nutrition, purchasing, and handling information to make them more informed consumers.

* Just to let you know during the presentation I try showing some video footage of how a turtle excluder device works, but it does not work. I apologize about this! If you'd like to see the correct footage you can go to the link to the University of Georgia Marine Extension Service provided at the end of the presentation!
(You might get a message that blocks you from downloading the webinar; you will need to click on "allow" to let your computer download the presentation)
To make sure your computer is compatible with Elluminate Live, go to: and work through steps 1 and 2. If you have connection problems, please contact Ron Thomas with UF/IFAS distance education at

To view past webinar presentations from the Florida Seafood Safety and Sustainability Brow Bag Webinar Series visit:

We want to hear what you think!
To help us improve future webinars, we would greatly appreciate your input by completing a short online evaluation about the presentation.

To see the schedule for the rest of our webinars click here!

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission Meeting; Houston, TX

For the past couple of days I've been in Houston, TX attending a Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission (GSMFC) Meeting.
The Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission was established by an act of Congress in 1949 as a compact of the five Gulf States. Its charge is: "to promote better utilization of the fisheries, marine, shell and anadromous, of the seaboard of the Gulf of Mexico, by the development of a joint program for the promotion and protection of such fisheries and the prevention of the physical waste of the fisheries from any cause."
My main reason for attending the meeting is for the Gulf states Sea Grant fisheries subcomittee meeting. I am one of two representatives from Florida Sea Grant who attends the bi-annual meeting. We meet with other Sea Grant representatives from the Gulf region to discuss current regional progams and issues. I feel honored to be apart of the group as the members are a hardworking dedicated group of professionals. I learn something from them everytime I go. Today's meeting focused on Gulf seafood marketing programs that are underway in the region. We heard from the Gulf and South Atlantic Fisheries Foundation about a multi-million dollar marketing campaign they are working on to restore people's confidence in the safety and quality of Gulf seafood. We were told about a very interesting study that looked at consumer preferences/attitudes about Gulf seafood in light of the oil spill. It is very interesting.
The findings from the study are a strong justification for me continuing with my seafood outreach efforts as there is still much confusion, skeptism, and questions about the safety of our region's seafood.

FMNP Alumni Trip:10K Islands National Wildlife Refuge Marsh Trail and Kirby Shorter Boardwalk

Monday, 14 March 2011

Letter: FDA must revise fish-consumption advice

I thought you might find this interesting as I have been posting a lot of stories relating to seafood consumption.

Letter: FDA must revise fish-consumption advice

U.S. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Tom Coburn (R.-Okla.) are urging the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to update its seafood-consumption advice for pregnant and nursing women, emphasizing that the advisory is inconsistent with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recent recommendation to eat fish twice a week and with scientific research confirming that the health benefits of eating seafood regularly far outweigh the risks.
U.S. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Tom Coburn (R.-Okla.) on Monday urged the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to revise its seafood-consumption advice for pregnant and nursing women in light of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which for the time encourage consumers to eat seafood at least twice a week for heart and brain health. Updated every five years, the new dietary guidelines were released in late January.
Since 2004, the FDA and Environmental Protection Agency has warned pregnant and nursing women and young children to limit seafood intake to 12 ounces per week, limit albacore tuna intake to 6 ounces per week and avoid consuming swordfish, shark, king mackerel and tilefish altogether due to the health risks associated with the neurotoxin methylmercury.
In a 10 March letter to FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg, Gillibrand and Coburn said the FDA-EPA advisory is inconsistent with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recent recommendation and with scientific research confirming that the health benefits of eating seafood regularly far outweigh the risk.
“While the [FDA-EPA advisory] is in many ways medically accurate, the recommendations communicate an overly risk-averse, precautionary principle that has led to unhealthy reductions in seafood consumption among pregnant women,” they said in the letter. Citing the dietary guidelines, they said “the benefits of consuming seafood far outweigh the risks, even for pregnant women,” and seafood’s nutritional value “is of particular importance” during fetal growth and development, as well as in early infancy and childhood.
Gillibrand went on to say in a press release on Monday that reduced seafood consumption is “causing harm to fetal and child development.”
“Consumers look to FDA for the most reliable source for dietary advice, yet their guidelines are six years old and inconsistent with more recent recommendations,” she said. “As a mother and a lawmaker, it is critical that the FDA provide the most up-to-date and scientific information on seafood consumption. Parents need this information to make educated decision for their families.”
Gillibrand and Coburn asked Hamburg to respond to their letter within 30 days, including the FDA’s plans to update the 2004 advisory to be consistent with new dietary guidelines.
The letter is singed by 16 other congressmen and congresswomen, including Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.).

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Collier County Commercial Landings and Value for 2009/2010 Season

Grouper and snapper being
at a fish house in Naples.
Ever wonder how much seafood commercial fishermen harvest in Florida? By law, they are required to report their catch each time they come to port and the state keeps records of what is landed and how much. Records have been kept since the mid 1980's. I wanted to share with you the preliminary landings and value data for Collier County's commercial fishing industry for the 2009/2010 season. Note that stone crabs were the most valuable commodity. Click on the graph to enlarge it.

To see the complete list of commercial landings in Florida visit:

Friday, 11 March 2011

Naples Seafood Seminar and Sampling Tour A Success!

Yesterday 30 participants took part in my first Naples Seafood Seminar and Sampling Tour, and I'm proud to say the program was a huge success! The goals of the program were to make participants more informed consumers about purchasing and consuming seafood as well as increase their awareness and appreciation of our local seafood industry.
The program started off with me giving some presentations on seafood safety and sustainability as well as an overview of the Florida seafood industry. We next headed over to Randy’s Fish Market Restaurant, a nationally-acclaimed restaurant and seafood market, where participants had the opportunity to sample some of the restaurants fresh seafood. The group started off with some Gulf pink shrimp, and then were served of black grouper, tripletail, and escolar (white tuna). Randy was also kind enough to give everyone some of his famous key lime pie. Each participant received a $20 gift certificate to the restaurant as well.
Our next stop included a visit to Captain Tom Marvel, a commercial grouper/king mackerel fisherman based out of  Naples (he also runs a charter fishing business as well; It was raining at this point, and Tom was kind enough to let everyone onto his boat. I'm willing to be it was the first time many of the participants had ever been on a commercial grouper boat. Tom's talk was fantastic! He showed us the type of gear he uses and told us about his involvement in the local fishery. Tom  is a very knowledgeable fishermen and did a great job of explaining how grouper and king mackerel are manged in the Gulf of Mexico. The group really seemed to enjoy the interaction.  One of the things he told us was that most of the grouper he lands is sold in the Naples area (just shows how high the demand is locally) where most of his king mackerel goes to New York and Canada because there is more of a demand there for that species.
Our last stop of the day was at Captain Kirk’s Stone Crabs Fresh Seafood Market, a historically well-known market in Naples, to visit with its owners, Pat and Damas Kirk. Damas is a 4th generation Florida commercial fisherman and gave a very insightful overview of his 40-year experience as a commercial grouper and stone crab fishermen. Like Capt Marvel, Damas is extremely knowledgeable about the region's fisheries and seafood industry, and the group learned a lot from him. At one point, Damas talked about how fewer young people are getting into the business because of the regulations and hardships associated with it. He said he was a "dinosaur" but just wasn't extinct yet! 
 As a added bonus, Pat served the group samples of some smoked mullet and an absolutely amazing fish dip (it had both mullet and king mackerel) to expose the group to some local fare. It was quickly devoured with much gratitude.
  This was the first time I attempted to do this program, and it certainly will not be the last. Based on the evaluations I received, it is clear people have a great interest in learning more about seafood and our region's fisheries. I owe many thanks to several of my colleagues in the County who helped me plan and carry out the program as well as my partners in the local industry. I couldn't have done it without their help.
  If you'd like to hear a little more about the tour, NBC-2 did a story on the program while we were at Randy's.
See more photos below!
Guy Ewing, seafood consultant for Randy's Fish Market Restaurant
shares with the group the type of fish they will be trying.
Sampling black grouper, escolar, and tripletail at Randy's.
Aboard the Sea Marvel, Captain Tom Marvel discusses what a typical
grouper fishing trip is like. The large containers you see are ice boxes.
Tom shows the group some of the gear (an umbrella rig) he uses to fish with for king mackerel.

Captain Damus Kirk talks to the group about his family's long history associated with fishing Florida's waters.

Pat Kirk explains the challenges of finding a steady supply of locally-caught seafood.

Pat gives participants a taste of smoked mullet and their famous fish dip. YUMMY!!!!

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

NOAA: U.S. 'Turning a Corner' in Ending Overfishing

At a hearing today in front of the Senate Commerce Committee on the Magnuson-Stevens Act, Assistant NOAA Administrator for Fisheries Eric Schwaab said that the U.S. is making good progress toward meeting the mandate to end domestic overfishing.

“We know that nearly $31 billion in sales and as many as 500,000 jobs are lost because our fisheries are not performing as well as they would if all stocks were rebuilt,” Schwaab said. “While we are turning a corner toward a brighter future for fishermen and fishing communities, many fishermen are struggling in part as a result of years of decline in fishing opportunity.”
Schwaab said that NOAA is committed to working with fishermen and communities during this period of transition.
Our nation’s fisheries have been vital to the economics and identities of our coastal communities for hundreds of years. According to the most recent estimates, U.S. commercial and saltwater recreational fisheries support almost two million jobs and generate more than $160 billion in sales.
Schwaab talked about fishery management challenges, including improving collection, analysis, and accuracy of scientific information used to manage both recreational and commercial fisheries. He indicated that NOAA Fisheries will continue to work hard with the regional fishery management councils, fishermen and the coastal communities to increase confidence in the management system and ensure productive and efficient fisheries.
“We have turned a corner in our management of fisheries in this country, and the sacrifices made and being made by so many who rely on this industry are showing great promise,” Schwaab said. “As we end overfishing and rebuild stocks, we will increase the economic output of our fisheries, improve the economic conditions for our fishermen, and create better, more stable and sustainable jobs and opportunities in our coastal communities.”
NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. A copy of Eric Schwaab’s testimony is available  online at:.

Monday, 7 March 2011

March is National Nutrition Month: Enjoy the many health benefits of seafood!

Image credit: NOAA
Did you know that March is National Nutrition Month (NNM)?
National Nutrition Month® is a nutrition education and information campaign sponsored annually by the American Dietetic Association (ADA). The campaign is designed to focus attention on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits. NNM also promotes ADA and its members to the public and the media as the most valuable and credible source of timely, scientifically based food and nutrition information. If you go to the website below, you can find lots of great resources about improving your health through diet and exercise.
Why, might you ask, am I writing about ADA's nutrition month program when my outreach work focuses mostly on fisheries, marine ecology, and seafood sustainability? Well, seafood is obviously a major component of my extension work, and just as important as sustainability issues, are the important health benefits that seafood provides.
 In fact, the USDA recently released its new dietary guidelines to help Americans make healthier food choices and confront our Country's obesity epidemic. Part of their press release on the new guidelines mentioned, "The new 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans focus on balancing calories with physical activity, and encourage Americans to consume more healthy foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fat-free and low-fat dairy products, and seafood, and to consume less sodium, saturated and trans fats, added sugars, and refined grains."
Image credit: NOAA
Seafood is a low-fat source of high-quality protein and is rich in vitamins and minerals. Most health experts recommend eating seafood at least twice a week to maximize the benefits to your heart, brain, and body. Eating seafood has been shown to decrease the risk of heart attack, stroke, obesity, and hypertension in the general population. Pregnant and nursing mothers, as well as developing fetuses and small children can also benefit from the health benefits of seafood especially because of Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential to human health but cannot be manufactured by the body. For this reason, omega-3 fatty acids must be obtained from food, and seafood is a major source of them. They play a crucial role in brain function as well as normal growth and development.
To learn more about the nutritional benefits associated with seafood visit:

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