Black Drum


Amy Withers with a nice Black Drum caught on a fly. Photo: Capt. Jay Withers

I’ve been seeing lots of black drum photos lately. Black drum are really cool fish that don’t ever seem to get very much attention. In fact, if you do a quick search on black drum, you just might get more search returns for red drum than black drum. So today I’m going to give these fish some love.

Black drum, Pogonias cromis occur from the Gulf of Maine to Florida, throughout the Gulf of Mexico, and as far south as Argentina. Black drum are large fish that can reach sizes over 46 inches in length and 120 pounds. They are also long lived reaching ages of nearly 60 years on the Atlantic coast and about 45 on the Gulf coast. Black drum grow rapidly during their first 15 years of life and then slow after.

Coloration of black drum can change with age or habitat. Young black drum have 4-6 vertical black bars along their sides. These bars, which sometimes lead to them being confused with sheepshead, fade as the fish ages. Adults are silvery to black in color with a copper or brassy sheen. Black drum in bays and lagoons tend to be darker and often have a bronze upper surface with gray to white sides.

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It’s Cephalopod Week!

Octopus from South Florida - Photo USGS

Octopus from South Florida – Photo USGS

June 17-24, 2016 is Cephalopod Week. So exciting! No we don’t get to take the week off from work, it’s not a real holiday, but it is a way to raise awareness about and celebrate octopus, squid, cuttlefish, and nautilus. This year, Cephalopod Week, created by NPR’s Science Friday will celebrate its third year running.

Taxonomically, cephalopods are a kind of molluscan and therefore closely related to clams, oysters, and snails. Cephalopods live throughout the world’s oceans, from surface waters to depths of more than 4 miles. The name “cephalopod” means “head-foot,” which refers to the fact that their limbs are attached to their head.

Why celebrate cephalopods? They’re cool, that’s why!

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Southwest Florida Baitfish – Species Profiles

Pinfish - Image Credit NOAA

Pinfish – Image Credit NOAA

Pinfish, Lagodon rhomboides are a common baitfish, in the United States found along the coast from Massachusetts to Florida and from Bermuda throughout the Gulf of Mexico to the Yucatan Peninsula. Pinfish are important prey for many economically important fish, including grouper, snapper, spotted seatrout, red drum, snook, ladyfish, and flounder. Pinfish are very hardy and tolerate a wide range of temperatures (from 50 to 95 °F) and salinities from true freshwater to full saline ocean water.

Pinfish live up to 7 years and become sexual mature at 1 to 2 years of age, and 4.3 inches or larger, standard length (SL). Standard length is how scientists measure fish. It is from the head to the end of the fleshy part of the body…where the tail starts.

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Cobia Stripes

Cobia with prominent striping above and dull monocolor below - NOAA Images

Cobia with prominent striping above and dull striping below – NOAA Images

I’ve been seeing lots of cobia pictures lately. I’m acutely tuned into seeing them because cobia is still a bucket list fish for me. And of course this is the time of year when we see them and when anglers are catching them. Recently my friend Robert ask if I knew why some cobia have prominent stripes and others do not. He knows juveniles have darker stripes and as a fish ages the stripes fade. But Robert said if you look at angler photos, you could have two large cobia both the same size and one will be dull and the other with more prominent striping. That was what had him perplexed. And to be honest, I didn’t know the answer. But, I do now!

Before I answer the stripe question, let’s look at this beautiful fish. Cobia, Rachycentron canadum, gets its name from its 7-9 pointed dorsal spines; rhachis is Greek for spine and kentron mean pointed. The first description of cobia occurred in 1766 by a scientist Linnaes who classified it as Gasterosteus canadus, and not from a Canadian specimen as the species name canadus would suggest; his cobia came from the Carolinas. Interestingly, cobia was reclassified and renamed 19 times before its current scientific name was settled on.

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Smalltooth Sawfish Research in Southwest Florida

This baby male smalltooth sawfish is about two weeks to a month old

This baby male smalltooth sawfish is about two weeks to a month old

Sawfish are modified rays with a shark-like body. Sawfish get their name from their “saws”, which are used for defense and to locate, stun, and kill prey; mostly fish. The earliest sawfish arose about 200 million years ago. These sawfish were distant cousins of the ones we see today which appeared about 65 million years ago. At one time sawfish were abundant; however, they have experienced significant declines due to decades of unintentional overfishing, mostly the result of entanglements in fishing gear. Sawfish saws (scientifically called rostrums) have also been popular trophy items, but when they’re removed, they don’t grow back and sawfish are unable to feed normally or defend themselves. Today, all sawfish species (five) are endangered, including the smalltooth sawfish which occurs in our area. The smalltooth sawfish historically ranged from around North Carolina to central Brazil, and along the western coast of Africa. Now, smalltooth sawfish are only found in south and southwest Florida, and the Bahamas. With few remaining, it is important to learn about their life history, biology, and ecology so that conservation efforts will be successful.

In Southwest Florida, smalltooth sawfish research began in the early 2000s with most research efforts focused in the Caloosahatchee and Peace rivers; research data and angler observations indicate these areas still support juvenile sawfish. Last month I accompanied FWC-Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) researchers on a directed sawfish trip in the Caloosahatchee River. FWRI’s sawfish research includes both random and directed sampling using a variety of net gear. We sampled in areas where anglers and shore observers had reported sawfish sightings (hence directed sampling).Sampling involved deploying a net and letting it soak for one hour. We had to check the net whenever anyone saw movement or after a half hour, whichever came first. Our first set resulted in nothing. We then cruised the shoreline looking for sawfish before setting a second net. We thought we were skunked a second time but finally at the end of our set, we got a sawfish!

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It’s cownose ray mating season again!

Cownose ray - image credit FWC

Cownose ray – image credit FWC

It’s cownose ray mating season. It’s also the time of year when I’m frequently asked “what kind of fish is that swimming at the surface with two fins out of the water?” That fish is a female cownose ray and if one looks carefully they will see at least one male, often several, following her at a slightly deeper depth. When a female cownose ray displays her pectoral fin tips above water she is ready to mate.

In Charlotte Harbor, cownose ray mating behavior can occur between October and June but mating usually takes place from April to June. Like all sharks and rays, fertilization is internal. Female cownose rays have two ovaries, but only the left one is functional. Males have modified pelvic fins called claspers that they use to deposit sperm when mating. During mating, the male bites the female to hold onto her. This often leaves visible wounds along the pectoral fins. Sharks and other rays also exhibit this biting behavior. Don’t worry, the wounds heal quickly.

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Green Algae on the Rocks

If you’ve spent any time fishing along shore or strolling in our parks along the shoreline of Charlotte Harbor, you’ve probably noticed all the green algae attached to the rocks and other intertidal structure. I walked along the shoreline at Bayshore Live Oak Park and noticed two species of filamentous green algae.  One species was closer to the water than the other in what biologists refer to as resource partitioning.  I suspect that the one closer to shore is probably better adapted to being periodically exposed at low tide.  The other is probably better at competing in deeper water.

Enteromorpha flexuosa found closest to shore at Bayshore Live Oak Park

Enteromorpha flexuosa found closest to shore at Bayshore Live Oak Park

Closest to shore I saw Enteromorpha flexuosa.  If it has a common name I don’t know what it is. Enteromorpha means “intestine-shape,” and this algae resembles hollow tubes much like intestines. Enteromorpha is light green, unbranched, and only about four to five inches in length, often shorter.  It grows in clumps or tufts at or near the low-tide line and is often found on rocks, mangrove roots, or other woody debris.  This species of algae has a wide salinity range and can be found in almost any shallow-water brackish or marine environment.

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New Boundaries for Boca Grande Gear Restrictions

Boca Grande Gear Restriction Area

Boca Grande Gear Restriction Area – CLICK TO ENLARGE MAP

News from FWC:

Recent changes to the buoys marking the Boca Grande Channel will affect tarpon anglers and others fishing in Boca Grande Pass during the months of April, May, and June.  

Because of natural shifts in the depth, location, and configuration of shoals bordering the channel, the U.S. Coast Guard recently moved several buoys that marked the Boca Grande Channel to better align with the current location of the channel.  One of the buoys that was moved (Flashing Red Buoy #12) was used as a reference point to mark the boundaries of Boca Grande Pass for the purposes of implementing specific fishing gear restrictions in the area.  Flashing Red Buoy #12 was removed and was replaced with a new buoy (Charlotte Harbor Channel LB 6), located approximately a quarter of a mile to the East-Southeast of the old buoy.  This change required that the boundaries of the Boca Grande Pass gear restriction area be updated to incorporate the location of the new buoy marking the entrance to the Pass (see map).  The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has issued an Executive Order to ensure that the area where the Boca Grande Pass gear restrictions apply is updated before the regulations take effect on April 1, 2016.  FWC staff plans to recommend the Commission permanently correct the name and location of the new buoy through the formal rule change process at the June 2016 Commission meeting in Apalachicola.

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Commercial Fishing in Southwest Florida

Image credit: Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council

Image credit: Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council

Southwest Florida has a long tradition of commercial fishing in its rivers, bays, and Gulf waters. In 2015 over 22 million pounds of wild harvested fish and shellfish including shrimp, blue and stone crab, grouper, mackerel, and mullet among others were harvested by commercial fishermen and landed in the seven-coastal counties of Southwest Florida. In addition, approximately 285 wholesalers and 750 retailers bought and sold seafood in this region contributing to Florida’s multi-billion dollar seafood industry.

The fisheries in Southwest Florida are monitored and managed at the state level by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and federally by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council. Closed areas and seasons, size and daily limits, trip tickets, and limited access into a fishery are all tools commonly used to manage Florida’s fisheries. In addition, managers establish annual catch limits and accountability measures to ensure the long-term health of the fisheries they manage. Fishermen use a variety of gear and methods to harvest their catch and they must also follow rules to minimize impacts to the surrounding environment and marine life.

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Salty Topics: A Thorny Matter: Invasion of the Indo-Pacific Lionfish in the Western Atlantic

lionfishInvasive Indo-Pacific Lionfish were introduced by aquarium hobbyists to waters off the southeast coast of Florida in the 1980s.  Over the past ten years, these beautiful, ornate fish have rapidly spread across the entire tropical western Atlantic, from North Carolina to Venezuela, throughout the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico.  The population sizes in the invaded range commonly exceed those from their native habitats by several orders of magnitude.  With a seemingly insatiable appetite for our native fishes, and a lack of local predators and disease to keep them in check, Lionfish can have detrimental effects on the invaded marine ecosystem.  In this talk, we will review the history of the invasion, discuss the biology and ecology that has allowed them to be so successful, highlight some damaging impacts they can have, and finish with what scientists are doing to combat the problem.

On Thursday, March 3rd, UF/IFAS Extension, Florida Sea Grant at Weedon Island Preserve welcomes Dr. Chris Stallings, University of South Florida College of Marine Science, to present “Salty Topics: A Thorny Matter: Invasion of the Indo-Pacific Lionfish in the Western Atlantic”. The educational program is intended for adult and high school age audiences.

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