Hatcheries focus on fish stock enhancement, habitat restoration and educating the public about marine conservation.
In the 1980s, harvest of red drum in Florida was causing the species’ population to decline statewide. In response, the fishery was closed for an extended period and a daily recreational bag limit of one fish per person was set for the open season to allow the population to rebound.
In 1988, the state built the Stock Enhancement Research Facility in Manatee County to determine if stock enhancement, in conjunction with existing regulations, could help sustain marine recreational sport fish species populations, including red drum. Stock enhancement involves spawning wild parent fish in hatchery tanks, culturing their offspring and stocking the fingerlings into state waters. Since the facility became operational, more than 6 million juvenile red drum have been released into Volusia, Dade and Hillsborough county waters.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) researchers evaluate the success of fish culturing methods to learn how to refine the process. They mark all hatchery fish to distinguish them from wild stocks; hatchery fish are also health certified by an independent veterinarian before release into state waters. After release, scientists monitor the growth, health and movements of hatchery red drum to refine stocking strategies to optimize stock enhancement effectiveness.
In 2006, the FWC implemented the Florida Marine Fisheries Enhancement Initiative (FMFEI) to establish a statewide marine hatchery network to enhance fishing opportunities and promote marine conservation. The FWC is partnering with public and private groups to secure land, expertise and funding to build a hatchery network focusing on local fish species and habitats that may benefit from stock enhancement. Future hatcheries will use indoor recirculating aquaculture systems for intensive fish propagation to minimize the hatchery footprint and seawater use. Environmental conditions are tightly controlled in intensive systems to maximize fish growth, health and survival.
Along with fish culture activities, the FMFEI prioritizes marsh plant restoration activities and education. At FMFEI facilities, staff plants a variety of aquatic plant species in treatment marshes to remove nutrients from facility effluent before it is discharged into state waters. Groups also harvest the aquatic plants from the marsh for restoring shoreline and upland areas. To accomplish education and outreach goals, staff provides tours and special opportunity fishing events to school-aged children and stakeholder groups to show how the facilities support marine sport fish restoration. Students also harvestSpartina (cordgrass) for habitat restoration in the Tampa Bay watershed or to cultivate marshes at their schools.
The mission for FMFEI marine hatcheries is to advance the science of stock enhancement for marine sport fish to enhance fishing opportunities, as well as assist in habitat restoration and educate Florida citizens about marine conservation.