University of Florida researchers track snook migration pattern

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Published: Feb. 10, 2021 at 5:38 PM EST
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CRYSTAL RIVER, Fla. (WCJB) - Wednesday several snook fish were measured, and tagged.

“We make a very small incision on the underside of the snook, one and a half to two inches, we use iodine to keep everything sanitary, put the tag in and suture it up,” Research Assistant Professor at the UF Nature Coast Biological Station, Charles Martin said.

The delicate process takes between three to six minutes. Once the fish receives it’s stitches, it goes into the recovery tank.

And after the fish spends a few minutes in the recovery tank, they are then put into this big tank for 72 hours for observation.

Martin said that out of the hundreds of fish that have undergone this procedure, they have all survived.

It’s all part of a research study to track the fish movements during the winter.

Historically, snook would remain in areas like Tampa Bay, but U.F. scientists said they are heading farther north due to hard freezes becoming less frequent in north central Florida.

The study at Crystal River started after workers at the nearby power plant noticed more snook congregating in the area. Manager of the Crystal River Mariculture Center, Eric Latimer, saw the change first hand.

“When I first started this job in 1991, there were no snook here. There was one catch of snook that made the news paper in ’93 because nobody had ever seen a snook in this area and now we have a viable fishery coming out of Citrus County and points beyond. The question still remains the temperatures of the water in the winter here are still critical for snook so in order for snook to advance north they need to find refuges during the winter and that’s where this study comes in,” Latimer said.

Scientists will be tagging 20 fish to study at the Duke Energy Crystal River Mariculture Center.

“It’s only been since 2008, 2009 that we’ve seen snook in this great of abundance here in this region, so we’re partnered with Duke Energy and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to put acoustic tags in these snook and use the Duke Energy canal here in Crystal River to monitor movements snook up and down so we can really, hopefully find out what the temperature triggers are for snook to seek thermal refuge,” Martin said.

And they’ve been doing this since 2016, studying fish in Cedar Key, the Suwannee river, and Waccasassa river.

So far they’ve found that snook are sort of like manatees.

“Around Cedar Key we found that around Halloween every year they start moving up the rivers. This area has some of the highest concentration of Springs in the world so we think they’re taking advantage of these spring habitats as thermal refuge much like a manatee would,” Martin said.

The researchers plan to continue collecting data for at least six years, the same amount of time as the lifespan of the tracker.

The study is being funded by a $25,800 Duke Energy Foundation grant that was awarded last year.

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