Haul seine nets may have caused fish kill

OKEECHOBEE — A video posted on Facebook by angler Kail Stevens on June 21 shows dead bass scattered on the surface of Lake Okeechobee near Lakeport. Some local anglers suspect the fish may have been collateral damage from haul seine nets.

Mike Krause at Okeechobee Fishing Headquarters explained that haul seine boats were working that area for a couple of days. There has been no algae in that area, and no chemical spraying of the aquatic vegetation has been done there recently by FWC contractors, he added

The haul seine boats were seen Wednesday and Thursday between Buckhead Ridge and Third Point by three different guides, he explained. He explained that haul seine boats use long gill nets or mullet nets. They catch everything in their path but can only keep certain species of fish. Bass and other game fish must be thrown back.

The FWC did not respond to Lake Okeechobee News phone calls and email requests for more information about the fish kill

FWC permits haul seine boats
The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Freshwater Fisheries Division issues a limited number of haul seine permits to licensed commercial freshwater fishermen.

Haul seines are limited to Polk County and Lake Okeechobee. Ten permits are authorized for Lake Okeechobee.

“Lake Okeechobee is nationally recognized as supporting high quality largemouth bass and black crappie fisheries. The lake also supports a commercial fishery dominated by catfish species. However, the commercial fishery is also nationally unique in that a limited entry fishery (ten nets) exists for haul seine gear which is permitted to legally harvest and sell bluegill and redear sunfish. Freshwater fishing retail sales in the five counties surrounding Lake Okeechobee were estimated at more than $117 million during 2000. Biologically, Lake Okeechobee can successively support recreational and commercial fishery interests. Fishery management concerns on Lake Okeechobee not only require allocating available fishery resources between recreational and commercial interests, but must also be concerned with resolution of socio-political issues that result from user conflicts,” the FWC website states.

Seines may be operated only Monday through Friday. The lake is closed to seines on state holidays: New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving Day, Friday after Thanksgiving Day. Christmas Day, and other holidays as they are designated.

Florida statute requirements of haul seine fishing include:

  1. Net specifications — Not less than 500 yards nor more than 1,600 yards in length, having not more than 250 yards of not less than two-and-one-half-inch stretched mesh in the pocket, doubles, and bunt or footing circle (including the width of the pocket); and not more than 200 additional yards of not less than three-inch stretched mesh; the remaining length of the net to consist of not less than three-and-one-half-inch stretched mesh. Mesh size in any portion of the net shall not exceed four-and-one-half-inch stretched mesh. Distance from the lead line to the float line shall be no less than ten feet.
  2. Haul seines 500 to 1,000 yards in length shall be pulled by one boat only, and one end of the haul seine shall remain stationary during seining operations.
  3. No purse seine, purse gill net or net using rings or other devices on the lead line through which a purse line is drawn shall be used as a haul seine.
  4. Haul seine float lines shall be marked at 200-yard intervals with a floating fluorescent-orange marker buoy.
  5. Closed areas:
    a. Haul seines shall not be used or operated in Pelican Bay; in Fisheating Creek Bay north and west of a line from the weather beacon approximately one mile east of the north end of Observation Shoal (designated R “2” on National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Ocean Survey chart #11428, edition 16) to the westernmost point of Horse Island; that area north and west of a line from the easternmost point of Kings Bar to Nubbin Slough water control structure S-191; that area south of a line connecting the northernmost point of Kreamer Island to the northernmost point of Ritta Island; or in any rim canal, river mouth, channel, within that area shoreward of the boundary delineated by the commercial fishing boundary Global Positioning System coordinates incorporated in the permit issued pursuant to subsection 68A-23.012(3), F.A.C.
    b. All other areas of Lake Okeechobee shall be open to haul seines authorized by permit.
  6. No haul seine may be operated within 50 yards of any legal trotline.
  7. Haul seines may be fished beginning at midnight but no fish shall be taken from the waters prior to one-half hour before sunrise. No haul seines shall be operated after sunset.
  8. All haul seines in Lake Okeechobee shall be attended continuously.
  9. Before fishing each day, permittee shall telephonically notify the dispatch center of the Commission’s South Regional Office when he will fish and in what general area.
    (b) Boats:
  10. Any boat pulling a seine shall display a 12-x-18-inch fluorescent-orange flag having a white circle at a minimum height of eight feet above the deck. Said flag will bear, within the white circle, the permittee’s permit number in numerals not less than 10 inches in height.
  11. The haul seine permit shall display the hull identification number and FL number of the haul seine boat(s) used. Should a different boat be used, the permittee shall request an amendment to his permit, in writing, from the assistant executive director or his designate.

Other causes of fish kills
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission website, many factors can contribute to fish deaths. Weather-related factors are common causes. Sudden temperature fluctuations or extreme temperatures can result in fish kills any time of the year.

Hot weather during the summer months can cause fish kills, in part because warm water holds less oxygen than cold water. In addition, lower water levels in lakes and ponds can result in poor water quality, increased density of animals and faster use of dissolved oxygen.

Heavy rains can compound the situation by suspending sediments in the water column and by washing vegetation, such as leaves and grass clippings, into the system where they will decompose. The decomposition process also can remove oxygen from water.

Report fish kills
The public can report fish kills to the FWC at MyFWC.com/FishKill or by calling the FWC Fish Kill Hotline at 800-636-0511. You can also submit a report through the “FWC Reporter” app on your iOS or Android mobile devices.

Publisher/Editor Katrina Elsken can be reached at kelsken@newszap.com

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