Residents and tourists along Florida’s world-famous Gulf Coast often enjoy catching the popular red drum, or redfish. Yet in the wake of a historic red tide bloom, anglers of all ages released tens of thousands of the fish instead.
Red tide occurs naturally during most late summers from a bloom of dinoflagellate (algae) that usually dies off in weeks. When a 2017 bloom lingered into 2019, heartbreaking losses of manatees, sea turtles, fish and other marine life resulted.
The massive redfish release effort resulted from a partnership between Duke Energy and the Coastal Conservation Association Florida (CCA). Employees at Duke Energy’s Mariculture Center in Crystal River, Florida spawned and raised 34,000 juvenile “fingerlings” and 300 adult redfish. Members of CCA Florida arranged the release events after Duke Energy received permits from Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Commission.
By late 2019, release events were completed within a 500-mile span between the Pan Handle’s Gulf County to Collier County on the southwest coast.
Fingerlings were released in locations lined with mangroves and other hiding places to increase their survival chances against predators. Adults, which can live for up to 40 years, were tagged and hand-released. If caught, anglers can help researchers by calling the phone number on the tag.
Will 34,300 redfish make a difference? One female redfish can spawn up to 2 million eggs per batch, making millions of new redfish a possibility. That’s encouraging news for Florida’s delicate coastal ecosystem – including those counting on its longevity to thrive.