The Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI), in partnership with Mote Marine Laboratory (MML), is in the midst of a large-scale redfish (red drum) stock enhancement project in Tampa Bay.
The goal of Project Tampa Bay is to increase the number of red drum caught by anglers in Tampa Bay and to experimentally determine the best sizes and locations for stocking in order to meet that goal in the most cost-effective manner. Before this project began, an in depth process was designed and implemented by scientists to identify and prioritize potential candidate stock enhancement species and stocking location. The process included a survey of many salt water fishing license holders, which recognized red drum, common snook and seatrout as the top three species. After a careful evaluation using a variety of criteria, scientists selected redfish as the species of choice for stocking Tampa Bay.
Tampa Bay was selected as the pilot stock enhancement site for several reasons. First, it already has an existing red drum fishery as well as an abundance of red drum nursery habitat. Our marine hatchery, called the Stock Enhancement Research Facility (SERF), is located near the shore of Tampa Bay in northwest Manatee County and has been culturing red drum since it opened in April 1988. Also, the FWRI Fisheries Independent Monitoring (FIM) program currently monitors wild fish populations in Tampa Bay and many of its contributing river systems.
The Alafia River is the primary study area and the Little Manatee River is a secondary release area for Project Tampa Bay. These rivers were selected because the majority of juvenile red drum documented in Tampa Bay by FIM monitoring teams over the past ten years were captured within these two river systems. FIM's monitoring efforts will provide data on the abundance of red drum in these locations before and after hatchery fish are stocked. This information is important for assessing the effect on the ecosystem as well as determining what size fish is most cost-effective to raise.
The staff at SERF began raising red drum for Project Tampa Bay in August 1999 using fertilized eggs provided by the Florida Power Crystal River Mariculture Facility. Stocking began in the spring of 2000 and completed in December 2004. Stocking occurred in the Alafia and Little Manatee River Systems. Because our goal is to increase the number of red drum caught, it is important to stock fish where many people already fish for them. Anglers can help track these fish by reporting capture information on any red drum caught in Tampa Bay and by cooperating with scientists conducting creel surveys.
We believe that stocking hatchery fish, if done responsibly, can be a cost-effective addition to fisheries management tools such as regulations and habitat protection. It is believed that hatchery raised fish can be used to restore populations that have been depleted by man-made or natural disasters such as chemical spills or freezes and to supplement weak year classes. If hatchery fish can substantially enhance wild populations, increased bag limits for anglers may be justified.