More than 16,000 juvenile redfish and a few hundred adult redfish will be released into the Gulf of Mexico after one of the longest recorded red tide events in Southwest Florida’s history, which proved to be fatal to hundreds of tons of fish and other marine life.
Manatee County is among the list of counties to benefit from a combined effort by Duke Energy, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Coastal Conservation Association Florida.
The program was announced last fall, but releases began Tuesday in Pasco County. Pinellas and Hillsborough counties will have releases on Thursday.
Manatee County’s release date has not yet been scheduled, but Brian Gorski, CCA executive director and a Manatee County resident, said there is a good reason for that.
“We’ve identified the release location,” Gorski said. “It will be in Robinson Preserve. We’ve already met with Manatee County and did a site visit. The only reason we don’t have a release date yet is because we are in the process of trying to get Gov. (Ron) Desantis to come to that. So we are working with his team to identify a date. As soon as he says he can come, we’ll pick that date.”
Sarasota and Collier counties are also on the list to have releases in the near future.
“I can’t quantify what the damage red tide had on this particular fishery but as you know, red tide’s impact was significant,’ Gorski said. “Our initiative is to give back. Our philosophy is every little bit helps.”
Gorski said 2,000 juveniles and about 25 adults ranging between 23 and 31 inches were released in Pasco County and each county will see about the same numbers.
“We started our partnership with Duke Energy about two years ago when they helped us by providing us additional redfish for our Star Tournament,” Gorski said. “It’s grown since then and last year they provided us with all 100 redfish for the West Coast Tournament. But because of the red tide effects, Duke really wanted to give back to southwest Florida, including Manatee County.”
Duke Energy runs a redfish hatchery at its Mariculture Center in Crystal River. The fish are typically released in their home waters of Citrus County.
“The redfish we are donating will have a long-term positive impact in the affected areas and we are proud to play a small part in the solution to the recent red tide occurrence,” said Catherine Stempien, Duke Energy Florida president, in a prepared statement.
The organism responsible for red tide — Karenia brevis — first appeared during this prolonged event in October of 2017. It survived the winter and began impacting Manatee County in August and the ensuing devastation was well documented. Though red tide has been minimal of late, traces have remained in the area, sparking concerns of what this summer holds after tourism in the area already suffered millions of dollars in losses.
The release includes a conservation promotion effort as agencies like CCA and FWC encourage a catch-and-release approach to these desired sport fish.
In a prepared statement, FWC Executive Director Eric Sutton thanked both Duke Energy and the CCA for their leadership, “on making this redfish enhancement possible. We are proud to be a partner.”