Steinhatchee Fisheries Management Area
It comes as no surprise that many people and businesses in the Big Bend of Florida rely on healthy and productive fish populations. In response to this need, the Steinhatchee Fisheries Management Area (SFMA) is now federally approved and being developed by the State to support local fisheries and boost the regional economy.
With initial funding by Taylor County native, Mark Dickert, and years of research by University of Florida Professor, Bill Lindberg, the project is in final construction phase. The plan when fully implemented will construct 500 artificial reef "patches" in a 100 square mile area centered offshore from the mouth of the Steinhatchee River in 30 to 50 feet of water. In May and June 2011, 452 patch reefs were completed. Taylor County Board of County Commissioners secured fundiung FWC-Division of Marine Fisheries to complete construction of these conservation reefs in summer 2012, and will build an additional 42 reef patches as enhancement to the public fishing zone.
The plan for use of widely-scattered "patch" reefs like those that examined reef fish ecology and gag grouper movement and growth earlier University of Florida research. The Suwannee Regional Reef System lies to the south off Dixie and Levy Counties."The science is there," explains Lindberg, "these patch reefs benefit gag, which in the long-term benefits anglers." Although the exact locations of these patch reefs are not being released to the public, the area is open to public use and fishing (unlike a no-take marine protected area). Reef patches are being deployed in random locations and will be difficult to find within the SFMA, due to the small sizes of the patches (2 X 2 meters) within the large area where they will be scattered.
White grunt and red drum on public fishing reefs of the SFMA (above).
To serve local economic development, a northern fishing zone and two southern diving zones were established and publicly advertised. The designated diving zones are in areas of low relief hard bottom that is unsuitable for fishing reef deployment, but very well suited for scuba diving trails landscaped with artificial reefs. This area will be enhanced with diver trails through cooperation between UF Extension in Taylor County, and UF Program of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences based in Gainesville.