What you won’t enjoy in the Keys

You like conch fritters? Me too.

You know what you won’t have in the Keys? Conch fritters from conch caught in the Keys. Simply put, they’ve been over-fished to the brink of destruction and are now illegal to harvest in Florida waters.

I’m not from Florida… far from it. But it seems like things need to change if Florida is going to continue producing for all those tourists who come down to play. If you keep everything you catch, regardless of whether you plan on eating it or not, there will simply be fewer of those fish around the next time you head out on that charter boat.

It is pictures like this that have me scratching my head. You think they are going to eat all those smaller fish? I doubt it. If not… why kill them? Is gaffing the only way these guys know how to land a fish?

When I see that 84% of lobsters in the Keys are caught in their first year of life (they can live to be 20), I have to wonder how the fishery could possibly thrive under such pressure. Visually, it is striking to see all those lobster traps set out. Hundreds upon hundreds of them, one after another after another. You just look at it all and have to think “How is this sustainable?”

There seem to be PLENTY of mullet around and the big, migratory tarpon will come to eat the mullet, so maybe the tarpon won’t be impacted by the general catch & kill mentality. You have to think you can’t screw with things too much, though, right?

Am I wrong? Can we keep this up?

Bison skulls from around the time when we nearly killed off all the Bison.



  1. I’ll be as concise as possible. It’s a cultural issue. The subtle things. The sign of the Charter company that is built in a way to have fish nailed to the frame of the picture. That’s where all of that starts for the tourist. It used to be totally normal to hang tarpon from one of those displays. They’re pretty much the crappiest way to have your picture taken with a fish. Basically saying you’re scared to touch it. It’s outdated and old. The people who need the fishery to be sustainable need to do better with that kind of thing and create a paradigm shift so the culture can evolve.

    Oh, and those mullet that bring in the tarpon are pressured by gill nets nightly. Trust me.

  2. Just wait until the mullet (already fished to a fairly large degree) becomes the new fish du jour where they are culled in mass for the next like the fish oil pill from menhaden of the northeast. That practice has at least 50% to do with the decline in the striper fishery.

  3. Jonathan Winthrop

    Including the Bison picture is a good call. Puts it in perspective. It’s not just stripers, or cod or whatever. It’s Atlantic Salmon too. A river I fished on for almost 40 years booked only 84 fish killed/released/lost (4 killed I think) in the 4 week club season of 2014. In the late seventies we did that in 2 or 3 days. We at ASF are trying to figure this out, just as BTT is in the warm water.

  4. Read “Hooked: Pirates Poaching and the Perfect Fish” by G. Bruce Knecht. Story of the near extinction of Patagonia toothfish, aka “Chilean sea bass”. In a matter of a couple years the uncontrolled, irresponsible fishermen came very close to complete decimation of that fish. They found out how, when and where they congregate to breed and proceeded to net every single fish. It’s also the story of an Australian fish & game vessel that identifies and tracks a poaching vessel through the Antarctic ice flows all the way to Africa.

  5. I have personally seen a Dominican mother ship anchor on the edge of the Great Bahama Bank and watched as 6 little fishing skiffs went to work fishing that section of the bank. And when they are done there, they move on to the next section until the mother ship is full and then they go back to the Dominican Republic. Because it is so remote, the Bahamians can’t do anything about it.

  6. If you’re going to try to make a case that everything in the Keys is so backwards,and they’re going to catch all the fish and before we know it, then there won’t be any fish left, you selected an odd picture. That’s a pretty light haul of accepted, prolific, food fishes which have very strong stocks.

    Dolphin are one of the fastest growing (20 pounds or more a year) and most prolific fish that there is. They are considered sustainable by every group that provides opinions on such things that I am aware of. 3 peanuts and a gaffer do not move the needle. Blackfin tuna also grow fast and are considered sustainable; the 5 tuna in the picture there is completely insignificant. Kingfish are sustainable and abundant; stocks collapsed 30 years ago but are doing great now. 2 small kings, NBD. Mutton snapper–stocks probably aren’t as strong as the other fish in the picture, but take remains legal and not many folks are letting a legal mutton swim away. And bonita are not a food fish, have little commercial pressure, and there is certainly no shortage; those bonita will probably be used by the captain for bait. These are not the last buffalo. Nor are they comparable to Chilean Sea Bass (or cod, or striped bass, or any other collapsed/distressed stock).

    The bros there are going to leave the trip with about 10 pounds each (at most) of pretty delicious fresh filets. That’s not an unreasonable amount of fish and it’s not unreasonable to assume that everything will get eaten (unless they don’t like the taste of kingfish, which could happen). The picture is goofy–hanging fish on nails does not make for compelling photography. But unless you’re going to take the position that no fish should be kept ever, no matter what (I’m assuming that you’re not, since you said you ate dolphin on your trip), then you picked the wrong picture to support your argument.

  7. Well, CH, you caught me being a bit sloppy, is all. Some of those fish look pretty small, you think they are going to keep all those? It isn’t the most devastating line-up ever, I agree, but I was getting tired and just grabbed something easy instead of something that perfectly illustrated my point.

    While I was there I saw a 20 pound cuda laying on the ground… it wasn’t going to get eaten, it was just caught and brought in for the picture. It was going to get tossed. Derek said he sees it happen all the time… fish just getting up on the board and then thrown away, and the captains and mates complaining that the big cudas are getting harder to find.

    So, the picture might not be a great illustration of my point, but my point still stands.

    No, dolphin are not on the brink, and that’s great, but there is a bit of a buffalo (bison, really) mentality out there from what I saw.

  8. Bjorn, the conch issue is more than just overfished. Pollution has made the inshore conch populations sterile. I recommend talking to Bob Glazer at the Florida Marine Research Institute in Marathon, Florida. He is the one that discovered this horrible fact.

  9. Sterile conch… gawd… that sounds horrible.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *