The winter of 2010 will go down as one of the worst in Florida's history. The deep freeze took the lives of many species of fish, but none was impacted more than the common snook. Recent estimates indicate over 1,000,000 snook died in Florida waters this winter. Although the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission has canceled 2010 snook season to give the species time to recover. The outlook for this Florida native's future could be grim indeed. Mote Aquaculture Park has made great strides in snook hatchery research, and their scientists continue to learn more every day about spawning of captive brood stock and subsequent production to fingerling stages. Before this year's deep freeze, Mote was lucky enough to capture a number of breeder snook from the wild that will be used to continue the hatchery process to ultimately supplement depleted snook populations.
Mote began developing the technology to culture common snook in the 1980s. They initially focused on catching wild snook during the spawning season and then transferring them to tanks at the City Island facility. These fish were induced to spawn soon after capture and researchers collected the fertilized eggs. This approach led to limited larval survival and in 1996 they began collecting and fertilizing eggs from wild, naturally spawning fish in Sarasota Bay. This strategy was more successful and provided good quality eggs for larval growth and production studies for stock enhancement.
To collect snook eggs, a group of eight to 10 staff deploy a 400-ft-by-10-ft seine net from a boat. Netting sites are chosen based on knowledge of snook spawning behavior and the feasibility of deploying and safely collecting snook in the large seine net. In Southwest Florida, snook spawn from May through September, congregating near passes and inlets to bays following new and full moons. Although there are many sites where snook congregate for spawning, the currents or topography of a site may be too difficult to net. After the fish are collected in the seine net, they are separated by sex into floating pens. Milt - sperm is taken from the males, eggs are taken from the females and the fish are released alive and unharmed. Eggs and milt are then combined with seawater and the eggs are fertilized and carefully packed and transported to Mote where they are stocked in larval-rearing tanks and maintained for growth and other studies.
In 2006, Mote began developing year-round maturation and spawning techniques for snook held at Mote Aquaculture Research Park. Each 14,348-gallon snook brood stock tank and its associated filtration system is designed to hold approximately 14 adult snook. In 2006, they successfully matured and spawned snook in captivity during the natural spawning season. In 2007 and 2008, they successfully matured and spawned snook two months before natural spawning season - a first for this species held in captivity. Current research is focused on determining if enriching the brood stock diet with vitamins and fatty acids will result in improved egg quality.