Snook permit refund options

I don't "soap box" very often, but this is one of those times. No ranting, just an observation -- hopefully one with which all who value Florida's snook population will agree.

Essentially, snook harvest will remain closed on Florida's Gulf coast and adjacent waters through Sept. 1, 2011. That means the snook stamp (required for harvest) is unnecessary this year and Gulf Coast anglers who purchased one can apply for a refund ($2 or $10 depending on purchase date). It's my opinion that fishermen should only apply for these refunds in cases of dire financial need.

Okay, hopefully that didn't anger anyone, but consider the situation. If ever there was a time when a fishery needed funding, this is it. January 2010 saw one of the coldest winters in Florida's history. Sunshine State temperatures have dipped deeply before, but this year saw an extended period of freezing temperatures that levied a tragic toll on our snook. Hundreds of thousands were lost -- many yearlings and lots of big brood stock. This was very bad.

Florida's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission acted valiantly to protect the remaining linesiders by keeping the season closed, thereby skipping the traditional spring harvest and protecting snook all the way through their summer spawning season. With an executive order that took effect at 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 16, the FWC extended the snook closure through September. Prior to the executive order, snook season traditionally closed Dec. 15-Jan. 31 and June-Aug. on the Atlantic Coast; Dec.-Feb. and May-Aug. in the Gulf of Mexico, Monroe County and Everglades National Park (Editor's Note: For more information on the closing, check out David Brown's column "The big chill").

Recently, the FWC extended the 2010 closure to Sept. 16 for the purpose of evaluating the species' status and determining the possible need for further restriction. (Editor's Note: For more information on this extension, check out David Brown's column "The line on linesiders"). Upon review of the latest available information on the status of the snook population, in addition to public input, the Commission ruled to reopen the recreational harvest season for snook on Sept. 17 in Atlantic state waters and maintain a catch-and-release snook fishery in Gulf state waters.

In Atlantic state waters, recreational snook harvest will remain open until the normally scheduled closure on Dec. 15, 2010. The season will remain closed through the spring until September 1, 2011. In Gulf state waters, Everglades National Park and Monroe County state and federal waters the snook fishery will remain closed until Sept. 1, 2011. Catch-and-release snook fishing remains legal during snook harvest closures without a snook permit.

So, this brings us back to the issue of snook permit refunds. Per 379.354(8)(c) of the Florida Statutes, revenue generated from the sale of snook permits is used exclusively for programs to benefit the snook population. It's safe to assume that we've established the dire needs of Florida's snook population.

From a consumer's perspective, snook stamps are valid statewide, so you'll still have about three months to use them on the Atlantic Coast. Also, if you found the cash for a snook permit -- in addition to the basic saltwater license fee -- you're probably an avid angler who'll drop more than $10 each time you walk into a tackle shop.

In fairness, anyone taking a snook stamp refund is not dooming the species, nor are they standing in the way of snook recovery. Don't let anyone make you feel bad about managing your money as you see fit. However, for those with the financial flexibility to take it or leave it, the refund option provides a good old-fashioned gut check.

Aside from a few folks in the state's accounting office, it's unlikely anyone will know what decision you made. In a couple of years, if all goes well and snook numbers are up, you'll know.

For Voluntary Snook Permit Refund 2010 information, click here.