Former Everglades Foundation Fellow works with anglers to collect fisheries data

Former Everglades Foundation Fellow works with anglers to collect fisheries data

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Jessica Lee, a graduate student at Florida International University, is a former Everglades Foundation Fellow working on a unique idea. She is partnering with Everglades anglers through the creation of a citizen science program dubbed CAST – Coastal Angler Science Team.

Each year, the Everglades Foundation awards scholarships and fellowships to outstanding students working on Everglades related projects. Lee was awarded a fellowship in 2012 to work with Dr. Jennifer Rehage at FIU. 

Researcher Jessica Lee with bass recapture.
Researcher Jessica Lee with bass recapture.

The CAST program integrates fishermen with fisheries research by working directly with anglers in the backcountry of Everglades National Park. For many anglers, fishing in the Everglades is a favorite, and perhaps even a core part of who they are. Many have faithfully fished these waters over decades, and have a wealth of information for scientists trying to better understand both historical and future changes in the ecosystem.

Recreational angling is very valuable to both local and regional economies.  Florida is the number one state in angler expenditures, and 1 in 5 anglers in Florida fishes the Everglades.

There is a need to get anglers better integrated into Everglades restoration and conservation efforts, and the science that goes along with those efforts. This work was largely inspired by The Southernmost Bass Anglers (SMBA), a fishing group from Key Largo. Anglers know and care a lot about the Everglades, and involving them in science aimed at making our fisheries and ecosystem healthier is a winning proposition.

“The Everglades Foundation has played an integral role in this project, as none of this would have been possible without their support. It was the generous Everglades Foundation Scholarship that has taken CAST from an initial idea, to a full-fledged effort to work alongside anglers like the SMBA.” said Lee.

 “The funding from the Foundation allowed for the development and purchase of all the equipment needed to equip anglers with tag readers and to conduct a recapture tournament. Anglers worked alongside researchers and provided key data on two important Everglades recreational fish species; Florida Bass and Common Snook”.

Fish were marked using transponder tags and released back into the Everglades for later recapture by both anglers and our own sampling. Tags provide crucial long-term information on fish survival, growth rate, habitat use, movements, and overall health of the fish population. In the tournament, CAST anglers were fitted with hand-held readers to scan catches and report the number of scanned fish and recaptures.

Participating anglers scanned fish throughout the year, and in June CAST wrapped up the Recapture Tournament, which ran from January 1st to May 31st. Over this period, there were a total of 19 recaptures: 17 largemouth bass and 2 snook – an amazing accomplishment for the first tournament. Overall, 535 Florida bass, 92 snook, and 8 redfish were scanned for tags during the tournament. Every recapture is crucial, as each one increases knowledge of the fishery. This tournament brought CAST to a total of 145 recaptures, of which 35% have been caught by Everglades recreational anglers. So far, we have learned that the most number of days ‘at large’ by a bass was 1104 and by a snook 657. The largest distance between mark and recapture was 7.5 miles for snook and 4.3 miles for bass, indicating that snook are a lot more mobile and move further than bass. It seems that survival of bass is highly affected by seasonal drying of wetlands that forces bass into mangrove regions as wetlands dry. Further analyses of the data collected are ongoing.

The Everglades Foundation Fellowship program started in 2008 and since then, the Foundation has awarded more than $400,000 to 24 students.

Hand-held scanners used to detect the presence of internal tags.
Hand-held scanners used to detect the presence of internal tags.

Snook Recaptures

1st, Dave Rose (Key Largo, FL) – 2 recaps

Bass Recaptures

1st, Jason Nedimyer (Orlando, FL) -4 recaps

2nd, Larry Frischman (Key Largo, FL) – 3 recaps

3rd, Todd Snynider (Key Largo, FL) & Jeff Nedimyer (Orland, FL) – 2 recaps