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Cobia given added protection

By TERRY TOMALIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 4, 2001


Anglers targeting cobia this spring can keep only one fish instead of two under new rules adopted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

At a recent meeting in Miami, the FWC also voted to classify cobia as a "restricted species" and to establish a six-fish-per-day vessel limit for recreational anglers. The rules take effect March 22.

A study by the FWC also showed more money was spent last year on fishing, hunting and wildlife viewing than in the state lottery.

These outdoor sports generated approximately $5.5-billion in retail sales, resulting in an economic impact to Florida of $7.8-billion. The study also showed sales tax revenues generated from outdoor sports-related items were $336-million. The economic analysis of Florida's outdoor industry, completed in 2000, was based on a survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, conducted by the U.S. Bureau of the Census.

Here are how the numbers break down:

Hunting: participants -- 233,992; retail sales -- $356,812,910; sales tax -- $21,408,775; economic impact -- $383,994,869; jobs -- 12,492.

Freshwater fishing: participants -- 1,375,875; retail sales -- $985,117,521; sales tax -- $57,487,050; economic impact -- $1,029,352,530; jobs -- 18,759.

Wildlife viewing: participants -- 3,938,918; retail sales -- $1,887,887,300; sales tax -- $113,273,243; economic impact -- $1,993,645,537; jobs -- 52,140.

Saltwater fishing: participants -- 2,493,858; retail sales -- $2,395,869,789; sales tax -- $143,752,189; economic impact -- $4,474,842,714; jobs -- 54,819.

TOP BASS LAKES: Where is the best bass fishing in Florida? Ask 10 people and you will get 10 opinions. But one thing is for certain: Kissimmee's West Lake Tohopekaliga will be near the top of most lists.

When the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society held a tournament there last month, the winner landed 108 pounds, 12-ounces of bass, breaking the organization's tournament record of 91 pounds, 3 ounces. A B.A.S.S. single-day catch record also was set at 45 pounds, 2 ounces, including two fish that weighed more than 10 pounds and a 9-, 8- and 7-pounder in the five-fish limit.

The FWC credits sound fisheries management, including a new set of regulations established in 1992 and habitat restoration programs such as drawdowns, for the improved fishery.

With that in mind, state biologists have rated Florida's top 10 bass lakes (in no particular order): Lake George (northwest of Deland), Stick Marsh/Farm 13 Reservoir (east of Vero Beach), Lake Kissimmee, West Lake Tohopekaliga, Rodman Reservoir (east of Gainesville), Lake Tarpon (Pinellas County); Lake Weohyakapka, commonly known as Lake Walk-In-Water (south of Orlando); Lake Istokpoga (south of Sebring); Everglades Water Conservation Areas 2 and 3 and Lake Okeechobee.

COLD KILLS: The recent cold weather has taken a toll on the state's manatee population. As of Jan. 29, biologists with the Florida Marine Research Institute (FMRI) in St. Petersburg found 43 dead manatees in state waters. At least 16 of those were attributed to cold weather. Officials expect that number to rise.

Manatees are warm-blooded and do not do well in water less than 68 degrees. Prolonged exposure can cause a condition called "cold stress," an ailment similar to frostbite in humans, and the symptoms include white skin around the face, flippers and tail.

If you come across a sick or injured manatee, call (800) DIAL-FMP, or *FMP on a mobile phone. To learn more about manatees and other FMRI research programs, visit the Web site www.floridamarine.org or call the Education and Information office at (727) 896-8626.

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