Speak Out for Your Florida Reefs

February 12, 2016 at 9:28 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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By Sue Cocking, Guy Harvey Outpost staff writer

scocking@guyharveyoutpost.com

Anglers, divers, or anyone who enjoys the ocean off Southeast Florida needs to pay close attention and get involved in a new initiative proposed by a community group called Our Florida Reefs.

This group of anglers, divers, scientists, local government officials, business owners, conservationists and others has been working for two years on 68 wide-ranging recommendations aimed at protecting the 105-mile coral reef tract extending south from St. Lucie Inlet in Martin County to just north of Biscayne National Park in Miami-Dade County. This region of Southeast Florida was targeted because, unlike Biscayne National Park and the Keys, it has no management plan in place to balance use with protection of coral reefs.

Some of the community working group’s recommendations for saving coral are non-controversial, such as installing mooring buoys and enhancing reef education in schools.  But others have drawn considerable ire from user groups both online and at public meetings.

One of the proposals–N-59– would ban spear fishing using scuba gear throughout the region –except for harvesting invasive lionfish–in order to eliminate the targeting of the largest and most fertile reef fish species.  Another–S-97–would reduce the annual, two-day lobster mini-season bag limit statewide from 12 to six per day and would require lobster hunters to complete an educational program in order to receive a permit.  Recommendation N-146 would establish a series of marine protected areas along the Southeast Florida coast that includes no-take zones; seasonal closures to protect spawning aggregations; no-anchoring areas; and coral restoration areas.

You– the ocean user– have until March 1 to review and comment on these proposals.  Then they will be forwarded to local, state and federal agencies for action.

You can provide comments on the Our Florida Reefs website or at public meetings this month from noon to 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Feb. 16 at Holiday Park Social Center, 1150 G. Harold Martin Dr., Fort Lauderdale; Feb. 17 at Newman Alumni Center at University of Miami, 6200 San Amaro Dr., Coral Gables; and Feb.18 at Kovens Conference Center, FIU/Biscayne Bay Campus, 3000 NE 151 St., North Miami.

If this really is a community planning process and not being executed at the behest of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, then what you say counts.  Speak up.

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Sue Cocking chronicles the Guy Harvey Outpost travel and adventure experience in regular blog posts on GuyHarveyOutpostNews.com/.  For 21 years, Cocking covered the full spectrum of outdoors adventure opportunities in South Florida and beyond for the Miami Herald, including fishing, diving, hunting, paddling camping, sailing and powerboat racing.  She is a certified scuba diver and holder of an IGFA women’s world fly fishing record for a 29-pound permit. 

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Share your photos, videos and experiences with Guy Harvey Outpost by hash tagging #OutpostAttitude to all of your social media posts.

Get Your AARGH on with Guy Harvey Outpost Outfitter Full Moon Treasure Dives

February 10, 2016 at 2:44 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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gvilleBy Sue Cocking, Guy Harvey Outpost staff writer

scocking@guyharveyoutpost.com

The treasure won’t consist of authentic pieces of eight, nor will it be buried. But divers will still get to hunt for some special hidden coins at two popular South Florida dive sites under the full moon Feb. 22 and then redeem them for Guy Harvey swag and other prizes, including scuba trips and gear.

This month’s Guy Harvey Outpost Full Moon Treasure Dive is the first of a series of monthly night dives being conducted by Outpost Outfitters South Florida Diving Headquarters in Pompano Beach and Capt. Slate’s Scuba Adventures in Tavernier, Florida Keys.  Enough coins will be sprinkled around the dive sites so that everyone has a shot at taking home a prize.  A grand prize of a three-night lodging package at Hotel Playa Media Luna, a Guy Harvey Outpost expedition property in Isla Mujeres, Mexico will be awarded at season’s end.

Captain Jeff Torode of South Florida Diving Headquarters plans to host a one-tank dive departing from his new dock at Sands Harbor Resort at 6 p.m. to the wreck of the Ancient Mariner, 70 feet deep off Pompano Beach.  Upon returning to the dock, divers will exchange their coins for prizes and enjoy a waterside after-party at the tiki bar.

Captain Spencer Slate will conduct a one-tank dive departing at 6 p.m. from his Tavernier headquarters to the popular Davis Reef, about 30 feet deep off Islamorada.  In addition to hunting for hidden treasure coins, divers may enjoy a visit with Wasabi– a large, friendly green moray eel who frequents the reef.  (Don’t worry; Wasabi isn’t interested in grabbing a share of the treasure.)  An after-party and prize-giving will be held at Slate’s dock, followed by an optional after-after party at the nearby Morada Bay Resort in Islamorada.

For reservations or more information, call 1-800-513-5257.

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Sue Cocking chronicles the Guy Harvey Outpost travel and adventure experience in regular blog posts on GuyHarveyOutpostNews.com/.  For 21 years, Cocking covered the full spectrum of outdoors adventure opportunities in South Florida and beyond for the Miami Herald, including fishing, diving, hunting, paddling camping, sailing and powerboat racing.  She is a certified scuba diver and holder of an IGFA women’s world fly fishing record for a 29-pound permit. 

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Share your photos, videos and experiences with Guy Harvey Outpost by hash tagging #OutpostAttitude to all of your social media posts.

Thinking Outside the (Live) Bait Box for Sailfish

February 4, 2016 at 6:27 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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1916104_202726822733_7371996_nBy Sue Cocking, Guy Harvey Outpost Staff Writer

scocking@guyharveyoutpost.com

Miami-based charter fishing captain extraordinaire Ray Rosher —  a Guy Harvey Outpost Outfitter–didn’t reach the top of the industry by following the leads of others.  Rosher– whose teams have won top honors in just about every billfish tournament circuit from South Florida to the Bahamas, to the Caribbean and beyond–is an innovator who’s not afraid to try something unorthodox to reign atop the fleet.

“Don’t be afraid to try new techniques,” he advised.  “I’ve had more success doing things a little unconventional.”

With sailfish season hitting its stride along the Florida east coast and Keys, captains and anglers might want to consider changing things up from their usual practices.

For example, Rosher says, many fishermen believe that the only consistent method of catching and releasing sailfish between Miami and Jupiter is to drift waters with a drastic color change– usually 80 to 200 feet deep– using live bait on kites– typically goggle eyes (big-eye scad); threadfin herring; or sardines.

But Rosher said winning tournaments in the Pacific waters of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico taught him a thing or two about the effectiveness of dead-baiting.

Trolling a dead bally hoo on a spinning outfit behind a Mylar dredge, Rosher has enjoyed days of multiple hook-ups amid a fleet of live-baiters off Miami.

“That stuff about ‘they won’t eat dead bait when there’s live bait around’ is baloney,” he said.  “Don’t get pigeonholed thinking you have to catch sailfish in Miami on a live bait.”

Referring to his dredge/dead bait set-up, Rosher said, “I don’t care what [sailfish] think it is when they’re five feet away.  It’s too late; he’s got a bait swimming by him and he eats it.”

The captain points out that live baiting for sailfish generally works well between Jupiter and Miami because of steeper, narrower bottom contours that funnel the fish through predictable corridors as they feed into the northbound Gulf Stream current.  In the Stuart-Fort Pierce area, he said, trolling dead baits is preferable because the gradually-sloping bottom necessitates covering lots of ground to locate fish.

In the Keys where waters tend to be clearer and calmer and currents less consistent, fishermen look for showers of bally hoo being harassed by sailfish near shallow reefs such as Conch Reef and American Shoal.

“Fish that might be out in 100 feet of water come into the reef to feed,” Rosher said.

The 2015-16 sailfish season has been a roller coaster ride so far, ranging from days where it’s difficult to get a bite to double-digit releases.  The onset of cold fronts to the north usually propels pods of sailfish south.

And if this year is anything like past sailfish seasons, Rosher predicts a consistent push of fish into South Florida and the Keys well into May.

BOOK YOUR OWN SAILFISH CHARTERS with Guy Harvey Outpost Outfitter Capt. Ray Rosher by calling GHO Reservations at 800.513.5257, or email sales@guyharveyoutpost.com.

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Sue Cocking chronicles the Guy Harvey Outpost travel and adventure experience in regular blog posts on GuyHarveyOutpostNews.com/.  For 21 years, Cocking covered the full spectrum of outdoors adventure opportunities in South Florida and beyond for the Miami Herald, including fishing, diving, hunting, paddling, camping, sailing and powerboat racing.  She is a certified scuba diver and holder of an IGFA women’s world fly fishing record for a 29-pound permit. 

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  Share your photos, videos and experiences with Guy Harvey Outpost by hash tagging #OutpostAttitude to all of your social media posts.

Visit the Manatee Capital of the World

February 2, 2016 at 4:45 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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manatee

 

By Sue Cocking, Guy Harvey Outpost staff writer

scocking@guyharveyoutpost.com
[Crystal River, FL–]   Mist rises from the murky green surface of Kings Bay as our group of snorkelers quietly enters the water.  The air temperature this January morning is a chilly 40 degrees, but the waters of Kings Bay–fed by some 70 springs both large and small–are a relatively balmy 72.

We have joined the crew of the dive boat from Plantation on Crystal River to observe Kings Bay’s seasonal visitors– hundreds of endangered manatees weighing up to 2,000 pounds that gather in this warm-water refuge each winter when the adjacent Gulf of Mexico grows too cold.  And we humans are not disappointed.

Floating quietly, wearing a thick wetsuit, mask and snorkel but no fins to stir up the bottom, I can see only about a foot in front of me.  But very soon, a gray/brown whiskered mug with tiny eyes appears inches from my face.  Rather than recoil, I just stay still as a young manatee caresses my mask with its lips.  I suppress a giggle because I don’t want to scare it away.  It hovers there for a few seconds, then swims slowly away using its large paddle-tail for propulsion.

No doubt this scene (or one like it) played out numerous times that morning for scores of other swimmers visiting the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge– the only water body in the world where the public is allowed to interact with an endangered species. For many, it is a life changing experience to share personal space with such a huge, engaging and gentle creature.  Fortunately for us, the animals seemed happy to host us.

The manatee– perhaps Florida’s most charismatic mammal, listed as endangered since 1967–may not hold that status much longer.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service recently announced it is considering down-listing the manatee to “threatened” because its numbers are way up; mortality is stable;  and it is no longer in danger of extinction.  The public has until early April to comment on the proposal, but federal officials insist the reclassification will not result in weakened protection for the more than 6,300 manatees that inhabit the waters of the southeastern U.S.

Indeed, safeguards for the beloved sea cow are likely to be stepped up here in the Crystal River Refuge perhaps as early as this month.

One of the manatees’ favorite hangouts within the refuge is a small, breathtakingly-beautiful, clear spring adjacent to Kings Bay called Three Sisters. This 1 1/2-acre haven has been under increasing restrictions since the winter of 2011 when refuge officials began closing it to human visitors on days when manatees crowded in. On days when the spring is open, it is monitored by volunteers in kayaks and on land to prevent swimmers from molesting manatees, which carries stiff fines.  Daily openings and closings are posted on the refuge’s Facebook page.

But soon, there may be no more public access to Three Sisters through the spring run.  Instead, only eight snorkelers at a time –accompanied by a permitted guide– would be allowed to enter the spring from a boardwalk in the city-owned park that surrounds it.

Other long-held regulations in the refuge, such as slow-speed/no wake zones for boats and prohibitions against chasing or harassing manatees will remain intact.  Snorkelers will still be able to visit the animals in much of Kings Bay.

The potential reclassification “doesn’t affect the way we do our job to protect manatees,” said Ivan Vicente, a veteran visitors’ services specialist at the refuge.  “This is the manatee capital of the world.  We can protect manatees as we see fit.”

Prime manatee-viewing season typically lasts through the end of March in the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge.  For more information, visit www.fws.gov/refuge/crystal_river. For lodging and  snorkel tours, visit www.plantationoncrystalriver.com and to learn more about visitation in Three Sisters, visit www.threesistersspringsvisitor.org.

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Sue Cocking chronicles the Guy Harvey Outpost travel and adventure experience in regular blog posts on GuyHarveyOutpostNews.com/.  For 21 years, Cocking covered the full spectrum of outdoors adventure opportunities in South Florida and beyond for the Miami Herald, including fishing, diving, hunting, paddling camping, sailing and powerboat racing.  She is a certified scuba diver and holder of an IGFA women’s world fly fishing record for a 29-pound permit. 

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Share your photos, videos and experiences with Guy Harvey Outpost by hash tagging #OutpostAttitude to all of your social media posts.

Expeditons, RVs, and Burning Makos Highlight Outpost Plans in 2016!

January 29, 2016 at 3:35 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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GHO1For those who did not with this month’s powerball and want a shot at great prizes, we offer the Guy Harvey outpost Adventure pack Sweepstakes Contest. Simply visit http://www.guyharveyoutpost.com/adventurepack-sweepstakes/ and enter for a chance to win a Garmin VIRB Elite camera; Ecorox waterproof bluetooth speakers; Costa del Mar sunglasses; Guy Harvey backpack by AFTCO; two Guy Harvey ‘survivalstraps’; and Guy Harvey towels by AFTCO.

GHO.jpgGuy Harvey Outpost announces it’s 2016 Expeditions with Little Cayman, Mexico, and Panama. Visit Cayman and fish for tasty deep-water snapper and have it prepared by a 5-star chef. Catch and release bonefish, tarpon and permit in scenic, undisturbed shallows. Troll for tuna and wahoo in the deep blue, and dive the steep and otherworldly Bloody Bay Wall– a favorite of scuba divers worldwide.

These are just some of the adventures awaiting you at the Southern Cross Club, a Guy Harvey Outpost Expedition Collection property on Little Cayman Island. Check out our fishing, diving and combo packages at www.guyharveyoutpost.com/gho-cayman/ or call 1-800-513-5257.

GHO2For a unique, out-island sportfishing expedition tackling huge billfish in the remote waters of Panama, Guy Harvey Outpost offers the Black Marlin Special through Feb. 28. Your party will have three sportfishing platforms at its disposal, including gourmet food and activities for non-anglers. Panama Yacht and Fishing charter packages range from $2,600 to $4,900, depending on the number of guests and length of stay. To book your Panama adventure call our Travel Desk at 800-513-5257.

GHO3If you have ever longed to interact one-on-one, up close and personal, with the largest fish in the ocean, now is the time to plan your adventure. Keen M Blue Water Charters will escort you to the largest aggregation of whale sharks known to science in the warm Caribbean waters off Isla Mujeres, Mexico. As many as 400 of these huge, brown, white-spotted gentle giants gather along with manta rays from May to September each year to eat plankton near the surface, and you will be snorkeling safely right next to them. If you just can’t wait for the whale sharks to arrive, you can safely go cagediving to watch mako sharks and you can also fish for, and snorkel with sailfish right now. Your shoreside headquarters is the Hotel Playa Media Luna, a Guy Harvey Outpost Expedition Lodge. For a 7-day, 6-night snorkeling/fishing package, visit www.guyharveyoutpost.com/gho-mexico/ or call 1-800-513- 5257.

GHO4Recreational vehicle enthusiasts will soon have not just one, but two fun, outdoor adventure bucket list destinations in Florida under the Guy Harvey Outpost flag.

Guy Harvey Outpost Resorts and partner Elite Resorts– manager of premier RV resorts in Florida and Connecticut–have just unveiled plans for a new Outpost RV resort community near Tarpon Springs on Florida’s Gulf coast. Located in Pasco County between the popular Anclote Parks on the Anclote River and Gulf of Mexico, this $15 million, 46-acre destination will feature 340 brick-paved RV lots and the full suite of resort-style amenities. Lots will go on sale starting in the fall of 2016.

Meanwhile, GHO and Elite Resorts are proceeding apace with plans to redevelop the Okee- Tantie RV park and marina on Lake Okeechobee. Outpost president Mark Ellert and Elite president Ed Mayer appeared before the Okeechobee County Commission in December, pledging to spend $37.5 million to build 125 brick-paved RV pads, a 20,000-square-foot lodge, 70 rental cabins, and upgrade the marina, among other improvements. Anticipated re-opening is summer 2017.

GHO5Scuba divers can hunt for treasure at night under the full moon each month beginning Jan. 23 with Guy Harvey Outpost outfitters Captain Slate’s Scuba Adventures in Islamorada and South Florida Diving Headquarters in Pompano Beach. Captains Spencer Slate and Jeff Torode will sprinkle pretend treasure coins on the reef for divers to find and redeem for prizes. Prize drawings and after-parties will be held on shore following the dives. Call 1-800-513-5257 for more information.

GHO6Blazing Mako, Fishing and More In Islamorada

A monumental stainless-steel sculpture of a mako shark by renowned Keys marine artist Pasta Pantaleo will light up the night– literally– during the Blazing Mako Tournament and Festival slated for June 16-19 at the Islander Resort, a Guy Harvey Outpost Resort in Islamorada. The fishing contest/art/music/craft/’conch-servation’ fair will benefit marine science scholarships at Nova Southeastern University, whose mascot is the mako shark. Pantaleo has invited local artists and members of the community to watch him build the sculpture over the next few months outside his gallery at milemarker 81.5, U.S. 1. When completed, it will be set ablaze in a bonfire on the beach at the Islander during the Father’s Day weekend festivities. For more information or to sign up, visit www.blazingmako.com.

But you don’t have to wait till June to get your art on. The Islander will host the Islamorada Fine Arts Festival Jan. 23-24 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the beach featuring sculptures, paintings, digital art, ceramics, jewelry, photography and more.

The Islander is also a great place to stay if you plan to attend George Poveromo’s annual Salt Water Sportsman magazine fishing seminar Jan. 30 at Coral Shores High School. The day-long event features instruction, demonstrations, prize drawings and an after-party. Visit www.nationalseminarseries.com.

GHO7Eating Your Way Through Valentine’s Day

Guy Harvey Outpost properties Southern Cross Club on Little Cayman; Green Turtle Club in Abaco; and the Guy Harvey Outpost St Pete Beach will serve up exclusive, romantic Valentine’s Day menus and lodging packages for the weekend of Feb. 13-14. Call 1-800-513-5257.

GHO8Marine artist/scientist/conservationist/documentarian Dr. Guy Harvey plans to dive and shoot footage of the “Grouper Moon” near his home waters off Little Cayman Island with cinematographer George Schellenger this month. The annual Nassau grouper spawning event is off-limits to everyone except by special permit. Harvey and Schellenger previously produced the “Grouper Moon” video documentary and distributed it free to schools and conservation groups. Now they are looking for additional footage to update it.

GHO9We would like to know what you think of our newsletter. If you have questions, comments or suggestions, email scocking@guyharveyoutpost.com.

Save Billfish by Closing Loophole

January 28, 2016 at 9:31 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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602By Sue Cocking, Guy Harvey Outpost staff writer

scocking@guyharveyoutpost.com

Bill Shedd– president of AFTCO Manufacturing Co., and a principal in Guy Harvey Outpost Resorts–was asked last year by Marlin magazine what would be the single most important change we could make to current management policy in 2016 to benefit billfish stocks.

His answer:  for NOAA Fisheries to get on with finalizing its promised rulemaking on the Billfish Conservation Act signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2012. The law bans importation and sale of billfish (marlin, sailfish and spearfish) into the continental U.S., but still allows traditional fisheries within the Hawaiian Islands and Pacific territories.  More than three years after the law was adopted, NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service has yet to propose rules to implement it.

According to Shedd:  “The law intended that the Hawaiian exemption allow only for traditional harvest and consumption within the islands, and that billfish should not be allowed to be shipped from Hawaii to the U.S. mainland.  A ruling from NOAA Fisheries is needed to close a possible loophole and prevent possible cheating of billfish caught in other parts of the world being shipped through Hawaii and labeled as caught in Hawaii.”

“This clarification would not only protect billfish stocks in Hawaii, but in other parts of the world as well,” Shedd added. “The U.S. has been the world’s largest market for billfish.  The Billfish Conservation Act was passed to prevent billfish importation into the U.S. by removing economic incentive in other countries to catch billfish and export them to the U.S.  Allowing the Billfish Conservation Act to proceed as intended will have a huge positive impact on billfish stocks.”

Some knowledgeable observers say the delay in implementation may have to do with tasking bureaucrats at NMFS to draft what may turn out to be trade regulations rather than fisheries regulations–not normally their purview even though the agency is under the Department of Commerce.

But of one thing Shedd and other fisheries conservationists are adamant:  no billfish, whether from the U.S. or foreign countries, may be sold in the continental U.S.

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Sue Cocking chronicles the Guy Harvey Outpost travel and adventure experience in regular blog posts on GuyHarveyOutpostNews.com/.  For 21 years, Cocking covered the full spectrum of outdoors adventure opportunities in South Florida and beyond for the Miami Herald, including fishing, diving, hunting, paddling camping, sailing and powerboat racing.  She is a certified scuba diver and holder of an IGFA women’s world fly fishing record for a 29-pound permit. 

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Share your photos, videos and experiences with Guy Harvey Outpost by hash tagging #OutpostAttitude to all of your social media posts.

Diving the Grouper Moon

January 26, 2016 at 2:31 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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GrouperBy Sue Cocking, Guy Harvey Outpost staff writer

scocking@guyharveyoutpost.com

Marine artist/conservationist/cinematographer Dr. Guy Harvey this week is scuba diving at one of the most exciting and ecologically-important sites in the Caribbean– a coral wall about 100 feet deep near Little Cayman Island recognized as one of the largest spawning aggregation sites for endangered Nassau grouper anywhere.

Harvey plans to gather more video footage for “The Mystery of the Grouper Moon”–a documentary he first produced with George Schellenger in 2011.  The aim is to help build a groundswell among Caymanians to continue protection for Nassaus that use the site for reproduction each year around the full moons in January and February.

Harvey’s efforts paid off when the Cayman government extended a harvest ban in the area through 2019.  But he said that’s not enough to ensure a sustainable Nassau population.

“Our goal is to get the population here in Cayman up to 10,000 and repopulate the other islands and bring this fishery back to its former glory,” Harvey said.

Not so long ago, tens of thousands of Nassau grouper– a beautiful, slow-growing, and unfortunately very tasty reef-dweller– reproduced successfully at five sites around the Cayman Islands in winter.  But fishermen quickly figured this out and so decimated the aggregation that the only spawning site left in the area is off Little Cayman.

This pattern of overfishing also occurred at some 50 other spawning sites in the Caribbean and Bahamas, rendering between one-third and one-half of them inactive.

Today, the harvest of Nassau grouper is banned year round in the U.S.; prohibited December through February in the Bahamas, but open everywhere in the Cayman Islands except off Little Cayman.

Harvey would like to see all Nassau harvest closed in the Cayman Islands from November through March, and he’s not alone.

The Key Largo-based Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) and the Cayman Department of the Environment have been researching the “Grouper Moon” for the past 13 years– counting fish; implanting them with acoustic tags; collecting larvae and performing other research.

Harvey said it’s fascinating observing the scientists working with the fish.

“The area is spectacular– a wall on the western side of Little Cayman,” he said.  “They spawn at dusk in about 100 feet in the current.  They turn black and white as they spawn– one to two dozen males with one female.  One of the wonders of nature.  Very exciting,”

Harvey said efforts to protect the aggregation– while not as comprehensive as he would like–have achieved some benefits.  In 2010, he said, researchers counted about 2,500 spawners.  Last winter, he said, about 5,000 were found reproducing at the site.

“I get first hand the feeling on how the spawning population has improved from previous years,” he said.  “It really is working.”

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Sue Cocking chronicles the Guy Harvey Outpost travel and adventure experience in regular blog posts on GuyHarveyOutpostNews.com/.  For 21 years, Cocking covered the full spectrum of outdoors adventure opportunities in South Florida and beyond for the Miami Herald, including fishing, diving, hunting, paddling camping, sailing and powerboat racing.  She is a certified scuba diver and holder of an IGFA women’s world fly fishing record for a 29-pound permit. 

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Share your photos, videos and experiences with Guy Harvey Outpost by hash tagging #OutpostAttitude to all of your social media posts.

 

Speed Up Everglades Restoration

January 21, 2016 at 4:23 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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evergladesBy Sue Cocking, Guy Harvey Outpost staff writer

scocking@guyharveyoutpost.com

Borrowing from the immortal lyrics of country music’s Jerry Reed in the theme song of the 1977 film “Smoky and the Bandit”, Everglades restoration “has a long way to go and a short time to get there.”

While the song refers to the urgency of delivering beer cross country, it is far more applicable to the necessity of restoring historic fresh water flows to Everglades National Park and Florida Bay.  The stakes — for sport fishing, diving, and the ecosystem as a whole– are enormous.

About 15 years have passed since Florida and the federal government began work to restore historic water flows in terms of amount, timing, and quality across the Florida peninsula from the Glades headwaters just south of Disney World into Lake Okeechobee, and finally into the national park and bay.  The multi-billion dollar planning, land acquisition, and construction projects have been mired in bureaucratic problems and arguments over money. Meanwhile, huge quantities of polluted water have been shunted from the Big O east to the St. Lucie Estuary and west through the Caloosahatchee River, killing sea grasses, fish and other creatures while the Glades and Florida Bay remain parched.

In 2014, voters got so sick of the situation that they overwhelmingly adopted a constitutional amendment to set aside a third of taxes on real estate transactions to ensure land could be bought and water stored, filtered and sent south to benefit people and wildlife.

But the Florida legislature spent most of the money on debt service and buying vehicles.  And Congress hasn’t funded an effort to speed up work to move water through the central Everglades into Florida Bay.  The situation grew worse this summer when an unseasonable drought combined with high salinity and water temperatures killed sea grass, fish and mangroves in the bay.  Now, scientists fear the onset of a massive algae bloom that could further decimate this once rich marine life nursery, and they are keeping a close eye out for it.

gators

The Everglades Coalition, meeting earlier this month in Coral Gables, found a couple of reasons to be hopeful of better days ahead.  A bill being introduced in the Florida legislature this session would set aside at least $200 million for Everglades projects.  If lawmakers lack the political will to move ahead, Gov. Rick Scott has said he would set aside $5 billion over 20 years to create badly-needed water storage.

But the thirsty Glades could be running out of time.  What’s being billed as the largest water restoration project in the history of the world was initially projected to take about 30 years.  Now, experts say, it is barely at the halfway point, and could take up to 50 years.  This doesn’t bode well for the 8 million Floridians who depend on the Glades for drinking water, nor the fish and other aquatic creatures whose very existence hangs in the balance.

To learn more about the critical situation in Florida Bay, you can attend a talk by Everglades Foundation ecologist Stephen Davis Jan. 27 at 6 p.m. at the Keys History & Discovery Center at the Islander, a Guy Harvey Outpost Resort in Islamorada.  Fee is $25 for non-Discovery Center members and reservations are recommended.  Call 305-922-2237 or email info@keysdiscovery.com.

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Sue Cocking chronicles the Guy Harvey Outpost travel and adventure experience in regular blog posts on GuyHarveyOutpostNews.com/.  For 21 years, Cocking covered the full spectrum of outdoors adventure opportunities in South Florida and beyond for the Miami Herald, including fishing, diving, hunting, paddling camping, sailing and powerboat racing.  She is a certified scuba diver and holder of an IGFA women’s world fly fishing record for a 29-pound permit. 

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Share your photos, videos and experiences with Guy Harvey Outpost by hash tagging #OutpostAttitude to all of your social media posts.

Save Our Snook!

January 19, 2016 at 9:15 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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7988By Sue Cocking, Guy Harvey Outpost staff writer

scocking@guyharveyoutpost.com

A favorite cliché among politicians, policy makers and others of the 1980s and 90s proclaimed that, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Overused aphorism that it is, it pretty well sums up my viewpoint on the subject of managing snook in Florida.

Snook is an iconic, much-revered sport fish for many reasons.  It is finicky and will only take a bait when hungry.  The take is so quick that high-speed video cameras can’t quite capture it.  When hooked, the fish leaps into the air and dashes for the nearest obstruction in order to free itself –making an angler’s heart hammer with anxiety when fighting it and swell with gratitude when releasing it.   Despite decades of research into its life history, reproduction and movements, it still holds mysteries to science and angling.

Here in the Sunshine State– the northernmost extent of the tropical species’ range– the snook is doing just fine, according to scientists with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and many guides and anglers along both Gulf and Atlantic coasts.

“It is better today than I’ve ever seen it in my lifetime,” declared revered Gulf coast guide captain Scott Moore, who’s been fishing or guiding for snook for more than 50 years.

A just-completed stock assessment by the FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute finds that, despite a massive cold kill in 2010; intermittent outbreaks of red tide; destruction of mangrove habitat; and increasing angling pressure, snook on both coasts are rebuilding to achieve the state’s management goal of 40 percent spawning potential ratio.  That means the proportion of breeders in a stock compared to what that number would be if there were no fishing. The 40 percent SPR goal is higher than for other exploited species in the state, but Floridians decided snook is worth the loftier standard. Now that it’s pretty much there, we need to keep it that way and we can do that by leaving the current management measures adopted in 2007 in place.

Those management measures– tightening the slot limits on both east and west coasts; expanding seasonal closures on the west coast; and reducing the bag limit to one fish per person statewide–and the Legislature’s 2010 decision to increase the snook permit fee to $10 helped boost snook to the healthy status it enjoys today.  They created a buffer against the environmental and manmade onslaughts that could have plunged snook stocks back down to the 25 percent SPR level where they stood a decade ago.

The FWC held a statewide snook summit Jan. 13 in Orlando attended by some 300 anglers, guides, scientists, conservationists and others to hear proposals for future snook management. While some argued for staying the course, others called for increasing bag limits; loosening slot limits; and relaxing the 40 percent SPR goal.  Agency officials pledged to consider their suggestions, form stakeholder groups around the state, take their proposals to public workshops, and present FWC commissioners with draft rules in November.

Anglers and anyone else devoted to Florida’ s marine environment need to pay attention and get involved in this exercise to make sure we don’t roll back snook’s gains made over the past ten years.

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Sue Cocking chronicles the Guy Harvey Outpost travel and adventure experience in regular blog posts on GuyHarveyOutpostNews.com/.  For 21 years, Cocking covered the full spectrum of outdoors adventure opportunities in South Florida and beyond for the Miami Herald, including fishing, diving, hunting, paddling camping, sailing and powerboat racing.  She is a certified scuba diver and holder of an IGFA women’s world fly fishing record for a 29-pound permit. 

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Share your photos, videos and experiences with Guy Harvey Outpost by hash tagging #OutpostAttitude to all of your social media posts.

Fun Up the Creek With a Paddle

January 15, 2016 at 5:04 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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FisheatingCreekBy Sue Cocking, Guy Harvey Outpost staff writer

scocking@guyharveyoutpost.com

[Palmdale, FL–] A paddler would be hard-pressed to find a more scenic, tranquil waterway in South Florida to explore than Fisheating Creek.  Unlike many in the region, its water levels are not manipulated by humans, but dependent entirely on rainfall. No buildings line its banks except for the small office at the Fisheating Creek Outpost campground in tiny Palmdale.  Mostly, it’s just you in your kayak or canoe– maybe an occasional hunter passing by in a john boat– and gators, birds and frogs for miles around.

Fisheating Creek– derived from a Native American phrase for ” the creek where fish are eaten”–lives up to its name.  It’s loaded with bass, bluegill, and bream.  Flowing gently south and east from rural Highlands County for about 50 miles to Lake Okeechobee, the creek is a narrow, shady, shallow haven for wildlife.  If you are quiet, you might spy deer, wild turkey, and hogs as you glide by.  The state of Florida controls the creek corridor, maintaining public access while the upland regions are mostly cattle pastures owned by the agribusiness giant Lykes Bros.

I enjoyed a nearly effortless seven-mile paddle down the creek at year’s end, buoyed by unseasonably high water levels from recent rains that required no wading nor dragging my kayak over shallow sandbars.  Sunny, breezy weather tamped down annoying insects and made for a comfortable three-hour float downstream.

An Outpost shuttle driver transported my kayak and me to the put-in site popular with day-trippers called Burnt Bridge.  Had I desired a longer trip, I could have been shuttled further north to Ingram’s Crossing– a 16-mile, full-day or overnight excursion.  Using the Outpost shuttle is the only way to access the creek upstream from the campground because you have to pass through several locked gates on Lykes property to get there.

Decades ago, paddling almost the entire length of the creek to its terminus in Lake Okeechobee was possible, but not today.  The shuttle driver told me it is paddle-able for about 45 minutes south of the campground to a spot called Rock Lake.  Beyond Rock Lake, he said, the stream is too choked with vegetation to continue.

No matter.  I had plenty of spectacular natural scenery and wildlife to occupy me for my entire trip.  I glided through towering cypress forest with many boughs still bright green despite the winter season.  Their knobby knee roots lined the creek banks like columns of small soldiers.  Overhead, crows, herons and ibis called, squawked, and grunted as I floated by.

I think I had only been underway for about 20 minutes when I came upon my first gator– a five-footer sunning itself on a sandbar.  I slowed down, and barely was able to snap off a photo before it slid into the creek and disappeared.  Over the next three hours or so, I passed another 14 of the reptiles, one of them a jowly monster that looked to be about ten feet long.  Without exception, they either ignored me or departed quickly at my approach.  For some reason, I didn’t see any snakes or turtles.

Since it was a weekday, watercraft traffic was light.  I came upon exactly one small motorboat and a party of three kayaks.

“You’re the first person we’ve seen for days!” joked one of the paddlers.

It is theoretically possible to get lost on Fisheating Creek, but you would have to try really hard.  The route is marked with small directional signs and blue blazes on the trees.  If you ever find yourself between markers, uncertain how to proceed, simply go with the flow– following the strongest line of current downstream.

I stopped for lunch at a scenic sand spit dubbed Nude Beach on my trail map.  It was deserted; no naked people anywhere around.  However, as I munched on chicken tenders, I did spy two tail drags in the sand that doubtless were made by nude alligators.

Fish splashed and birds conducted me from the tree canopy as I continued downstream. Then I came upon a startling sight:  a large, gray, roundish structure about six feet tall attached to a tree on the left bank. Peering closer, I saw that it was a really big wasp nest!  I snapped a photo and pushed quickly away.  Not long after that,  I arrived back at the campground.

What a fun morning it had been.  Beautiful scenery, non-threatening wildlife and no bug bites.  I’ll have to do the long version next time.

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Sue Cocking chronicles the Guy Harvey Outpost travel and adventure experience in regular blog posts on GuyHarveyOutpostNews.com/.  For 21 years, Cocking covered the full spectrum of outdoors adventure opportunities in South Florida and beyond for the Miami Herald, including fishing, diving, hunting, paddling camping, sailing and powerboat racing.  She is a certified scuba diver and holder of an IGFA women’s world fly fishing record for a 29-pound permit. 

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Share your photos, videos and experiences with Guy Harvey Outpost by hash tagging #OutpostAttitude to all of your social media posts.

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