The Bonefish and Tarpon Trust, the Lower Keys Guides Association and KeysKeeper recently joined together in urging the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to address ongoing issues surrounding the state's barracuda population. According to a press release issued by the three groups earlier this month, "there has been a slow but steady realization by many South Florida fisherman that the Keys barracuda population is in decline." The perceived decline is supported by data from a survey of keys scientists, anglers and fishing guides.
The release notes the importance of barracuda as a keystone predator species, the decline of which can lead to a domino-effect of consequences through the marine ecosystem, some of which may be irreversible.
The message delivered by the groups cites the unregulated commercial harvest of barracuda in Florida as a likely cause. According to the release, recent years have shown a 65% increase in commercial harvest, a figure that is derived from limited data published by the FWC. Also highlighted were potential health concerns with the commercial harvest of barracuda, which are known to carry ciguatoxins, and their presence in the seafood market where they are often marketed under other names which conceal their identity to consumers.
According to the groups, "we believe management action is needed ... before there is an irreversible population decline of barracuda." The Bonefish and Tarpon Trust, KeysKeeper and The Lower Keys Guides Association are urging anglers to "help convince the FWC to follow the same process they used to address the bonefish, tarpon, and permit fisheries by obtaining the necessary data to better regulate the barracuda fishery, and to take the responsible and precautionary approach to implementing regulations that will protect the barracuda population while the necessary information is being obtained."
In addition to occupying an important role as a top-level predator in Flordia's marine ecosystem, barracuda an impressive quarry for anglers, and one that would be sorely missed on the flats if current trends continue.