BOKEELIA, Fla. —George Halper and Robert Weller spent decades fishing in Southwest Florida and said it isn’t the same after water issues like red tide and toxic blue-green algae wiped out much of the redfish population.
“Years ago, right along here you could catch all the redfish you wanted,” said Weller.
He said he and Halper plan to replenish the fish supply by pushing for state-run fish hatcheries, or fish breeding places throughout Florida.
The state and Duke Energy recently spent months placing thousands of red fish back into Gulf waters, but Halper said it's not enough.
“It's a drop in the bucket. Now we have to look at how many of those fish are going to survive to be adults,” he said.
They said the snook and trout populations are also struggling. So they're thinking Southwest Florida needs something big, like the Mote Marine saltwater hatchery in the Tampa Bay Area. It's the only one of its kind in the state and could lead to 2,000,000 fish being released back into the Gulf over the next couple years. Weller said saltwater hatcheries in other states are going even bigger.
“So now if you did what Texas does, and constantly stock 40,000,000 redfish a year, they'll take,” he said.
Halper said waiting on the state to make the water algae-free is not a practical plan to bring the fish back.
“Whether they get the water clean or not we're going to have to have hatcheries to replenish it, because it's not going to be able to be done naturally,” he said. “And the time to do it is now.”
Halper has started a Facebook group called Restock Florida Fisheries. It already has 2,000 supporters who see more state hatcheries as a solution.
Halper said the state can generate money for the hatcheries by cracking down on unlicensed fishing with bigger fines.
“The fine has to justify the crime. Why would anybody get a license if they can get away with it?” Halper asked.
Their first meeting is Thursday April 25th at 7:00 p.m. at Big Boys Bait and Tackle in Cape Coral.