You might have seen a floating oyster farm while driving over Garcon Point Bridge or along Scenic Highway. Many people know them for the beautiful, tasty oysters they produce, but those farms have a major ecological benefit that many aren’t aware of. First, the oysters in those cages act as a very efficient water filter, filtering upwards of 30 gallons per day. The floating farms also act as an oasis for other marine creatures, from crustaceans to finfish, and can help increase the biodiversity in the area. Oysters are also great at sequestering carbon into their shells. Today, we will go over these ecological benefits and proper etiquette when maneuvering around the farms to enjoy some of the ecological benefits of the oyster farm.
Besides being tasty, oysters are very well known for their ability to filter massive amounts of water in a single day. Research has shown rates of up to 50 gallons per day in a laboratory setting, but they filter upwards of 30 gallons per day in the wild. With most oyster farms in the area having more than 500,000 oysters on their farm, that’s more than 15,000,000 gallons of water per day per farm! Oysters can filter out any excess sediments from the water, forming them into small packets and depositing the sediment on the bottom of the bay, keeping the sediments from being re-suspended. This is very beneficial to any bay or estuary as eutrophication (More Here on Eutrophication) has been an issue in almost every bay in the southern United States.
Another benefit to oyster farms is that it is a floating oasis for all types of marine creatures. Blue crabs and stone crabs are a common threat to oysters, and they love to congregate around oyster farms waiting for an easy meal from a dropped oyster or oyster spat on cages. Common bay fish, like the Spotted Seatrout, Sheepshead, and Red Drum, have been known to hang out under the cages consuming smaller finfish and crabs, but some uncommon fish like Tripletail and Florida Pompano also patrol the cages looking for a meal. Because of its ability to hold all types of fish, fishermen love to fish around the oyster farms. Fishing around oyster farms is allowed, but most farmers want the boats to stay on the boundary of the farm and not inside of it. This is due to there being lines under the surface of the water that could potentially damage any lower unit and can cut free a line of cages. Also, it is against state law to be within the boundary of the farm if you are not an authorized harvester of that lease, and I have personally seen FWC enforce those rules. As a seasoned oyster farmer once told me “We know our farm holds fish and it is okay for them to fish the farm, heck put out some blue crab traps around it, but do not mess with the cages and stay outside of the boundary and we can all live in harmony.”
Last but not least is the ability of oysters to sequester carbon and excess nitrogen into their shells and pseudofaeces (aka bio-deposits). Carbon and nitrogen sequestration is a crucial service provided by oysters that helps battle global climate change. Just as they do with excess sediments, they deposit excess carbon and nitrogen into bio-deposits that accumulate on the bottom, keeping them from being re-suspended into the waters. Oyster reefs are currently on the decline around the world, and their decline has “resulted in a forfeiture of several ecosystem services” including carbon and nitrogen sequestration and water filtration. (More Here on Carbon Sequestration)
While oysters might be tasty, we have learned about some of the ecological services oysters provide to an estuarine environment. From water filtration to increasing biodiversity to carbon/nitrogen sequestration, oysters are a major benefit to any estuary and can help fight climate change and eutrophication. Next time you see an oyster farm or reef, give oysters (and farmers) a little appreciation for their hard work in helping make the world a healthier place!
Pompano?! More like Pompa-YES! Growing up in the Panhandle of Florida, I was exposed to many great fishing seasons and opportunities, from the Cobia (Rachycentron canadum) run in the spring to the “Bull” Red Drum (Sciaenops occelatus) run of the fall, but my absolute favorite season was the Florida Pompano (Trachinotus carolinus) run on the beaches. While I enjoyed being on the boat scouring the beaches with a small bucktail jig, casting at sliver flashes in the cuts of the sandbar, I had my most memorable trips on the beach with a few rods, sand spikes, and a “flea rake.” There were no bad days on the beach (as they say, it’s better than a day in the office), and when you happen upon a honey hole, it makes for an incredible day with very little effort and usually an incredible dinner to follow. Since we are rapidly approaching peak pompano season, I will pay homage to the “Silver Surfers of the Emerald Coast” with a little overview of the life of a Florida Pompano.
Florida Pompano have a very wide range, from Massachusetts to Brazil, and are a member of the family Carangidae (aka the Jack Family). It is a very popular sport and commercial fishery, and its rapid growth rate makes it a prime candidate for aquaculture. Florida Pompano are highly migratory fish, and they can run from the Florida Keys all the way to Texas and back in a season. In the Florida Panhandle, the Florida Pompano run starts in April/May lasting until July, with a bonus fall run in October/November when they are returning south. When fishing off the sandy beaches of the Florida Panhandle, you can run into its cousins the Permit (Trachinotus falcatus) and Palometa (Trachinotus goodei) who often get mistaken for a Florida Pompano. Another thing they have in common with Florida Pompano is their love of crustaceans including the Mole Crab (aka Sand Fleas) (Emerita portoricensis) and Atlantic White Shrimp (Litopenaeus setiferus).
Just like most members of the family Carangidae, Florida Pompano are considered “batch spawners.” A batch spawner is when a female releases her eggs into the water column and a male simultaneously releases his sperm into the water column. Female Florida Pompano can release upwards of 800,000 eggs per spawning season, and Florida Pompano typically head offshore in early spring to October in the Gulf of Mexico to spawn, and their juveniles return to the beach to grow along the shoreline. Florida Pompano can reach an aquaculture harvest size of 12 inches within one year, and males reach maturity in 1 year whereas females mature after 2 to 3 years.
When it comes to table fare, Florida Pompano ranks very high on my personal fish list, and many chefs love serving pompano at their restaurants due to the great, mild taste and fillets that are of even thickness. Their diet of crustaceans helps yield a buttery, almost crab flavor and the meat is very flaky and white. There are many preparation techniques for Florida Pompano, from grilled whole to pan-fried, and pompano have even inspired their own cooking technique, “Pompano en Papillote,” or baking pompano in parchment paper.
When fishing for Florida Pompano off the beach, most anglers employ a large rod (usually a 10ft rod) with a 20lb fluorocarbon double drop loop rig and pyramid weight. The larger rod allows for maximum casting distance from the beach, giving beach anglers a chance to reach behind the first sandbar. Most anglers will bring either fresh dead shrimp or a flea rake with them to catch the prized bait, mole crabs. Pro tip, when casting out the rods, make sure you have a bait close to the shore in the “trough” and not just past the sandbar. (Learn More About Rigging Here!) If you plan to harvest a Florida Pompano, make sure you check your local regulations. In the Florida Panhandle, Florida Pompano must be 11 inches (fork-length) or larger with a daily limit of 6 per angler.
I hope you have enjoyed this profile for the Florida Pompano. Now is the time to get your rods out of storage and ready to hit the beach!
For many who grew up in the Pensacola area October meant flounder gigging season. This once popular past time involved going out at night along the shores of Santa Rosa Sound with flounder lights and gigs seeking a local favorite flounder. Everyone has their favorite recipe for this fish but in this article, we are going to focus on the fish – maybe something you did not know about it.
In the northern Gulf of Mexico, flounder are flatfish with the two eyes on the left side of the head. Locally, flatfish with eyes on the right side are called soles. We do have native soles, but all species are too small to be a food option. If you are not familiar with the “two eyes on one side of the head” idea, yes – flounder hatch from the egg looking like a normal fish, an eye on each side of the head. But earlier in development one eye slides across to the other side. This is a weird transformation and there are probably videos online, so you see how this happens – check them out. The reason for this transformation is to improve depth perception. Eyes close together give the animal binocular vision. Binocular vision does not have a wide viewing range, can basically see what is in front of it but not so much what is behind it, but it does give the animal good depth perception, it can tell how far away the prey actually is, and this is important when hunting.
Once the eyes have shifted to the left side of the head, flounders lose the pigments on the side without eyes, which becomes white, and the fish lays on its side – white side down. The cells on the “eye side” have chromatophores that allow the fish to change color to match the sand on the bottom. Another important feature of being a successful hunter. Most of know they will bury themselves in this sand as well. With their binocular vision, camouflaged body, and sharp teeth, they lie in wait to ambush predators.
You may also be surprised at how many different kinds of flounder are found in the northern Gulf of Mexico. There are 21 species listed, and they range in size from the small Spiny Flounder which can reach an average length of 3 inches, to the Southern Flounder which attains a length of 3 feet. The Gulf flounder and Southern flounder are two species that are popular seafood targets, but any decent sized flounder will do.
Flounder are found in a variety of habitats ranging from shallow seagrass beds nearshore, near structure just offshore, to artificial reefs and the base of bridges, to depths of 1200 feet in the Gulf of Mexico. Many species spend the warmer months in the estuaries moving offshore when the weather cools down to spawn. Hard northerners can trigger a mass migration and a great time for commercial and recreational fishermen alike.
It is flounder season. Whether you prefer to catch your own or buy from the local seafood market I think will enjoy one of the variety of ways to prepare this fish.
For Florida recreational anglers in state waters, the season started a few days later on June 16. While the summer season ends on July 31, 2023, fishing enthusiasts can look forward to 3-day fishing weekends in Florida State waters later in October and November 2023. This means there are still additional days of red snapper fishing opportunities in 2023, giving you ample time to plan exciting fishing adventures.
Here, we present Bay County’s recent artificial reefs, which serve as prime fishing locations for this year’s seasons. This select collection includes three distinct areas: east (State), south (Federal), and west (State). These sites have had the opportunity to grow and mature, with over 290 reef modules deployed between May 2019 and December 2020.
East Location – Sherman Site
Walter Marine deploys one of nine super reefs deployed in Bay County’s NRDA Phase I project located approximately 12 nautical miles southeast of the St. Andrew Pass. Each massive super reef weighs over 36,000 lbs and is 15 ft tall. Multiple modules deployed in tandem provides equivalent tonnage and structure similar to a medium to large sized scuttled vessel. Photo by Bob Cox, Mexico Beach Artificial Reef Association.
This project was completed in May 2019 in partnership with the Mexico Beach Artificial Reef Association, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The deployment site in the Sherman Artificial Reef Permit Area is approximately 12 nm southeast of St. Andrew Bay Pass at a depth of approximately 80 feet. A total of twenty-five modules were deployed, including nine 18-ton reefs and sixteen 3-ton reefs.
South Location – Large Area Artificial Reef Site (LAARS) A
Large 45,000 lbs. concrete modules staged for deployment. These were placed by HG Harders and Son in July of 2019.
This project was completed in July 2019 in partnership with the Bay County Artificial Reef Association and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. The deployment site in LAARS A is approximately 12 nm south of the pass, with reef modules located around the center of the permitted area. The reefs are situated in about 105 feet of water. There are seventeen reef modules, including five 22-ton reefs with a height of 18 feet and twelve 2.5-ton reefs with a height of 5 feet.
West Location – SAARS E – L
This area has the largest number of reef modules and permit sites. It includes 154 small pyramids that are 8 ft tall and weigh about 10 tons. There are also 26 large pyramids that are 18 ft tall and weigh about 18 tons. Additionally, 25 concrete disk reefs, weighing about 3 tons each, were deployed nested inside select Super Reefs, adding to the complexity and diversity of the reefs. In total, approximately 980 tons of engineered concrete artificial reef material were placed in 8 permitted areas. These deployments were completed in December 2020 with the support of the Mexico Beach Artificial Reef Association.
Bay County’s NRDA Phase II deployment in Small Area Artificial Reef Sites (SAARS) E – L are located 11 – 15 nautical miles (nm) southwest of St Andrew Bay Pass in Florida state waters. (Source ArcGIS mapping software).
This monitoring dive was conducted by FWC in January 2021, shortly after the reefs were deployed. You can move the 360 deg video image to experience what the divers see and observe.
Below is an overview map of these three prime snapper sites!
Wishing everyone great fishing days on the water with family and friends!
Chantille Weber, Coastal Resource Coordinator, UF/IFAS Extension Bay County
L. Scott Jackson, Bay County Extension Director, UF/IFAS Extension Bay County and Florida Sea Grant
An Equal Opportunity Institution. UF/IFAS Extension, University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, Andra Johnson, Dean for UF/IFAS Extension. Single copies of UF/IFAS Extension publications (excluding 4-H and youth publications) are available free to Florida residents from county UF/IFAS Extension offices.
The Emerald Coast Open Lionfish Tournament May 20-21, 2023, at HarborWalk Village in Destin, FL, is gearing up to tackle a pressing ecological challenge while showcasing the power of sport to make a positive impact. This unique tournament, held along the picturesque shores of the Emerald Coast, focuses on combating the invasive lionfish population in the region’s waters.
Lionfish, native to the Indo-Pacific region, have become a significant threat to the delicate balance of marine ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico. With their voracious appetite and rapid reproduction, these invasive species pose a grave danger to native marine life. The Emerald Coast Open Lionfish Tournament aims to address this issue by encouraging divers and fishermen to actively hunt and remove lionfish from the waters.
Participants in the tournament will compete to catch the most lionfish, utilizing their skills in underwater navigation, spearfishing, and conservation. Sponsors provide cash and prizes for multiple categories including most caught, largest and smallest lionfish. The event provides an exciting platform for experienced divers and newcomers alike to contribute to the preservation of the marine environment.
Beyond the ecological significance, the tournament also offers a thrilling experience for both participants and spectators. Divers equipped with their spears dive into the depths, searching for lionfish while showcasing their prowess and bravery. The tournament fosters a sense of camaraderie and shared purpose among the participants, creating a community dedicated to the cause of protecting marine ecosystems.
In addition to the competitive aspect, the Emerald Coast Open Lionfish Tournament promotes education and awareness about the invasive species. Participants and attendees have the opportunity to learn about the impact of lionfish on local marine life and explore sustainable solutions to combat the issue at the free Lionfish Awareness Festival from 10:00-5:00 each day. Sign up to volunteer at the event if you want to join the fun. The week prior to the tournament is dedicated to Lionfish restaurant week where local restaurants practice the “eat ‘um to beat ‘um” philosophy and cook up the tasty fish using a variety of innovative recipes.
The Emerald Coast Open Lionfish Tournament 2023 represents a unique fusion of sport, environmental conservation, and community engagement. By bringing together individuals passionate about marine conservation, this event serves as a powerful catalyst for change and a shining example of how sport can contribute to the preservation of our natural world. Learn more at https://emeraldcoastopen.com.
The Bad Cat Classic will be hosted on August 27, 2022 by the Holmes County by UF/IFAS Extension Holmes County. The Bad Cat Classic is a bream and catfishing tournament with the mission to get youth on the water, spending time with positive adult mentors, while learning about the natural resources in our county. Fishing will take place in the Choctawhatchee River, with the team meetings/headquarters being at the Caryville Boat Landing.
All kids 16 years of age or younger who fish in the tournament will be entered in a drawing for a Florida Lifetime Fishing License. This is sponsored by Holmes County Sherriff John Tate, Sam Bailey- Holmes County Clerk of Courts and First Federal Bank of Bonifay. The lifetime hunting license giveaway is a part of the Conservation for Generations Program that works teach kids about natural resource conservation through recreationally actives and gifts lifetime hunting/fishing licenses in memory of Randy Adams. To learn how you can contribute to this effort reach out to Kalyn Waters at 850-547-1108.
This years tournament will add a bream fishing tournament that will start on Saturday morning. Following will be the overnight catfishing tournament.
All the details for the tournament details and rules go to: Bad Cat Classic
This event is a part of a program that offers a series of outdoor recreation events with the dual purpose of getting youth involved natural resource management and encouraging adults to spend time with youth in the outdoors. Revenue enhancement that is generated from these events is used to purchase lifetime hunting license for youth in the county as a scholarship program that promotes natural resources conversation and involvement.
For information call Kalyn Waters at 850-547-1108 and follow Panhandle Outdoor Connection for details on the Bad Cat Classic and other programs coming up.