Telemetry Tracks Snook Far From Protected Waters

Biologists track the movements of the common snook (Centropomus undecimalis) from the Banana River No-Take Reserve at Kennedy Space Center into surrounding fishing areas.

Prohibiting fishing within a no-take reserve is a spatial approach to fisheries management. Over time, spillover--the net export of large individuals of target species from a reserve--is expected to benefit surrounding fisheries. At Kennedy Space Center, investigators for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) are tracking the movements of the common snook (Centropomus undecimalis) within protected waters and beyond.

FWC's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute is partnering with IHA Environmental Services, a consultant to NASA, on the two-year study at the 9-square-mile Banana River No-Take Reserve. Established in 1962 within the Kennedy Space Center security area, it is among the oldest no-take reserves in North America.

As part of a multiagency network, researchers deployed more than 160 fixed receivers spanning 116 square miles to detect acoustically tagged fish in the Indian River Lagoon and adjacent reefs and rivers. Transmitters were surgically implanted into 30 individuals (21 to 34 inches total length) from August through November of 2009. Over the next 15 months, 22 of the 30 tagged snook migrated to oceanic inlets as far away as 118 miles to the south.  An angler in one of these popular fishing locations harvested one of the tagged fish and returned its acoustic transmitter to the research team through the Angler Tag Return Hotline, 800-367-4461 ( More than a year and a half into the study, none of the migrants had returned to the Banana River Reserve.

Some of the tagged snook have impressed the investigators with their stamina and range.  One tagged fish swam in spurts from the Banana River reserve to Sebastian, St. Lucie, Port Canaveral, Jupiter, and Fort Pierce Inlets, at one point covering 90 miles in 76 hours.

The Banana River Reserve is near the northern boundary of snook distribution. Southward migrations appear to be routine for larger snook as temperatures drop in October and November.  However, smaller individuals are less likely to migrate. During a record cold period in January and February of 2010, movements of tagged fish in the reserve ceased, suggesting that some may have died. The current investigation illustrates how such extreme events can severely deplete the population of a singular no-take reserve. To be effective as fisheries management tools, multiple no-take reserves may need to be spread throughout the range of the focal species.

To learn more about our telemetry studies, visit the Acoustic Telemetry Research section.


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Jim Whittington and Joy Young of the FWRI Tequesta field office retrieve a 600-foot seine
used to capture fish for acoustic tagging at the Banana River No-Take Reserve.


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Doug Adams of FWRI's Melbourne field office places a snook
into an aerated holding tank on board the research boat.

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