Sarasota Bar, Florida -- Scientists are tagging and releasing 2,200 juvenile snook into Sarasota Bay over three days to test different ways of raising the game fish for restocking.
The project is a joint effort between the More Marine Laboratory and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to replenish the number of snook, one of the most-popular saltwater game fish in Florida and part of nearly $7 billion industry.
The year-old, 8-inch snook were reared at Mote's Aquaculture Park and have been tagged with identification numbers so scientists can track their movement.
The hatchery was raised in two groups, one conditioned for the wild and the other in tanks.
"Half of the fish are eating live prey, seeking shelter in the hatchery. The other half are raised normally in tanks with pellet feed. We released them in the wild to see how much this will increase their survival," said Kenneth Leber, associate vice president for Mote's Fisheries and Aquaculture.
"We've found over time that we can improve the survival of hatchery snook released into the wild by 10 times just by choosing the right habitat," said Leber.
Chris Young, with FWC's Marine Research Administration, says snook is a good type of fish to use in testing the stock enhancement method.
"Snook is one of the top species in Florida. No brainer. Everything we can do to enhance the population in Florida it's good for the fisheries, it's good for the anglers," Young said.
Mote scientists say the young snooks' natural habitat in creeks will protect it from the red tide bloom in the Gulf of Mexico and near the coastline.
Mote scientists say if conditioning snook in the wild before their release works, the procedure could help with restocking other popular game fish.
Into each of the snook, scientists inserted PIT tags — passive integrated transponder tags. The tags are only 23 millimeters long, about the size of a pencil eraser, and transmit an identifying number that will be detected by underwater antennae.