Red tide killed tons of fish. Part of the comeback starts at Robinson Preserve

Some took off like a rocket, others meandered a bit and one or two even tried to get back into their release bags, but more than 2,000 juvenile redfish and 31 adults all made it safely into the waters of Robinson Preserve on Tuesday morning.

Robinson Preserve was the fourth of several release points affected by red tide during the past 18 months along Florida’s Gulf Coast. In all, more than 16,000 redfish will be released.

A few dozen people came out to Robinson Preserve in Northwest Bradenton to watch as the adults were released one by one and most of the juveniles — between 4-6 inches long — were delivered into the water from their tank via a tube. All of the fish were certified healthy by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the adults were tagged so if caught, anglers can help the state track their movement.

Tuesday’s release was made possible by the Coastal Conservation Association Florida and Duke Energy, which raised the fish at its Crystal River Mariculture hatchery.

Brian Gorski, CCA executive director, said a little over 2,000 fish doesn’t sound like a lot compared to what was lost during red tide, but, “These fish can with one spawn produce one million and two million eggs. So, that’s where your benefit comes when you’ve got that many fish with the potential to spawn almost immediately for the local waters.”

For locals who recall the prolonged devastation, and in particular when red tide invaded Robinson Preserve — just as everyone thought it was dissipating — Tuesday was a good day.

“It’s fantastic,” said Linda Chamberlain who visits the preserve about three times a week. “Red tide was horrendous and there were tons and tons of fish kills. We were only just able to get to the beaches for the first time in a year. This is absolutely a positive.”

Leon Chamberlain said Tuesday’s release was, “Perfect. It’s great. It’s definitely a step in the right direction, as long as red tide doesn’t keep happening.”

Gary Tibbetts, a staff member for U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, said he was there to show the congressman’s support and commitment to battling red tide.

“The congressman is a big supporter of getting back to where we were prior to red tide and we’re going to continue,” Tibbetts said. “You won’t be forgotten. We always have to keep in our minds that red tide could be here, so we are trying to do everything we can to research and make sure it doesn’t last as long as it has.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis was expected to be present for the release, but was unable due to scheduling conflicts. Gorski said there is only so long the fish have before they have to be released so it went on as planned.

“This release, in partnership with CCA and Duke Energy, represents one of many significant steps toward Gulf wide red tide recovery, and Manatee County is honored to host one such recovery release at one of our signature coastal environmental restoration sites,” said Charlie Hunsicker, director of parks and natural resources for Manatee County.

Gorski said Tuesday was a small step, but an important one.

“We are trying to give back and do our part to restock redfish, which is an iconic species,’ Gorski said. “It’s one of the most sought after sport fish out there for recreational anglers. For our STAR tournament, we only released 100 of them and 28 were recaptured all along the Gulf Coast. Their range is significant so hopefully we’ll start knowing just how significant these releases will be in this revitalization effort.”

Breaking News/Real Time Reporter Mark Young began his career in 1996 and has been with the Bradenton Herald since 2014. He has won more than a dozen awards over the years, including the coveted Lucy Morgan Award for In-Depth Reporting from the Florida Press Club and for beat reporting from the Society for Professional Journalists to name a few. His reporting experience is as diverse as the communities he covers.
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