Today, here in South Florida, conservation is interwoven throughout most angler’s lives. Tourism is a large driver of our economy and live fish swimming in our local waters have designated dollar value. Seasons, slot sizes, and bag limits are complicated and ever-changing. Stocking is seldom practiced in salt water but experiments have taken place and hatchery research on multiple species is being done. Some fish are so protected that it is illegal to remove them from the water for a photograph.
Personally, I have not cleaned a fish in years. There are a few species that I would be willing to harvest once or twice a year, but other supposed prize table fare, like snook, I can no longer enjoy on the table. They are much more valuable to me alive, swimming, and hopefully procreating.
Despite all of the internal and external conservation forces at play, I am afraid that the real threat is not addressed in the fishing regulations booklet that comes with an annual fishing license. Here in South Florida, we are on track to have experienced the warmest February on record. Mind you, not just in my six decades, but in recorded history. In my experience, February was always the coldest month of the year. This year, we had only a few days when the lowest nighttime temperature dipped below 70 degrees F. That fact is such a shocking aberration that the only word I can think of is “incomprehensible”.
It is a documented fact that global warming is affecting the migratory patterns of many species of birds. Whether it will affect the snook movement pattern will probably never be documented since little historical scientific data exists. However, anecdotal and cultural evidence has existed since long before I was a child, as any Florida Cracker could tell you that the snook would not gather in the passes until the Royal Poinciana trees look to be on fire with their spectacular blooms. Poinciana trees bloom in May, or at least they used to.
One prediction that I can easily make is that if this shit continues I will quickly and easily become one of those grumpy old bastards that are mad at the world. Last year it was just too hot to savor the spectacular baby tarpon fishing that occurs during the summer months. This February, the gradual warm-up from our depth of winter was nonexistent, and without it, there will be no post-hibernation backcountry snook exodus and feeding frenzy.
I’m not exactly sure how I am going to react to this, but likely it ain't’ going to be pretty.