By Charles Morgan III
I have fished for cobia for 40 years. Every year is different. This year—midway through the season—the fishing is extraordinarily slow.
There is no set season for cobia. They generally show up in late March and continue to migrate through our area until early May. There are weekend tournaments throughout April and, for the most part, the same group of fishermen competes every year.
Cobia fishing is a pastime that doesn’t appeal to everyone. It can be excruciatingly boring. But it can also be exciting and it is an extremely competitive type of fishing.
The people who chase cobia have a vested interest in the health of the fishery, and this year’s slow start has everyone worried.
We now fish under the most stringent restrictions in history. Boats are allowed to catch one fish per person or a maximum of two fish per boat—daily. Prior to this year, the rules allowed two fish per person or six per boat.
These are state regulations. Once the fish swim west of Florida, anglers can still catch two per person. The states of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas have not adopted the same catch regulations as Florida.
We’re sensitive to the charge that the fishery suffers from over-fishing. Not surprisingly, I can offer a rebuttal to that theory.
Boats in Destin fish for cobia primarily from 9 to 5 (that’s one of the reasons it’s enjoyable). We catch them on sunny days when the wind is blowing from the southeast. We catch them within a mile of the beach. We catch them when they are swimming near the surface.
The fish don’t care about our schedule. They’re swimming the other 16 hours of the day, at all depths of water and throughout the night.
This year’s fishery could be affected by the incredibly cold weather (and water temperatures) that we have experienced this month. We have fished the last three weeks in clothing that is normally seen on ski slopes. Abnormal weather can slow the migration.
Currents in the Gulf are constantly changing. The cobia in the northern Gulf are migrating and they are seeking the current that takes them to the west the quickest.
If a strong current loops all the way to the Panhandle, they’ll swim close to our beach. If the strongest currents flow 20 miles south of our beaches, they’ll swim in those waters—miles away from where we are fishing.
The overriding concern that I have is related to the BP oil spill of January 20, 2010. Aside from being the largest oil spill in the history of the Gulf, the response was unprecedented.
In defiance of the EPA, Corexit was the dispersant used by BP after the spill. It was sprayed on the surface of the Gulf and at the well-head (5,000 feet below the surface). Two-and-a-half million gallons were used. Corexit is toxic to marine life and, when mixed with oil, its toxicity increases.
The cobia that migrate along the Panhandle of Florida were swimming directly to the site of the oil spill to lay eggs. It is unreasonable to think that this environmental catastrophe didn’t affect the fishery.
Cobia live for eight to nine years. It is likely that an entire generation of fish has suffered from exposure to these chemicals.
So here we are. It’s the middle of a disappointing cobia season, and we’re not sure who to blame. We’re hoping that the increased regulations will help the fishery over time. We’re hoping that the stock of cobia is not as depleted as it seems.
We’re hoping for warmer waters, sunshine, and southeast winds.
We’re hoping for a great show of fish the last part of April and into the first two weeks of May.
We’re fishermen. We’re always hoping.
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