NOAA: Ciguatera a greater threat as sea temps rise

Python catching made easy for even the faint hearted

If you’re dining on deepwater fish right now, put this down and pick it up after dessert. It’s about ciguatera. That revolting ailment — described frightfully here in a December item on barracuda — might be catch and release fishing’s best argument when stock assessments and conservation arguments are not persuasive.

The latest news on ciguatera is a NOAA study forecasting that ciguatera poisoning will happen a lot more in fish of the Gulf of Mexico and the southeast Atlantic coast as climate change pushes sea temperatures up and up from now to the next century.

As for the Caribbean Sea, the study says sea temps already are near the top of the tolerable range for the Gambierdiscus and Fukuyoa algae that make ciguatera happen. If the forecast is correct, still-warmer water could weaken the algae, slightly decreasing the prevalence of Caribbean ciguatera.

On another hand, those algae could spread into the Gulf and up the Atlantic coast where it isn’t too warm for them yet, thus worsening the situation there.

Ciguatoxin algae first contaminate deep-reef corals and seaweeds. Forage fish consume the toxin and are eaten by food fish like snapper, grouper and barracuda. People consume those fish and...ugh. Worldwide, 400-plus species of fish can be contaminated with ciguatoxins.

It might not be so bad if you could see, smell or taste ciguatera and sensibly toss a fish that has it into the garbage. But no: “Contaminated fish have no specific taste, color, or smell and there is no easy method for measuring ciguatoxins,” said NOAA scientist Steve Kibler, the study’s lead author. “However, we can forecast risk based on where and when we are likely to find the algae that produce ciguatoxins.”

Kibler and his team of scientists from NOAA, North Carolina State University and the company Ocean Tester LLC published the report in the journal Ecological Modeling. They took a chance on getting into hot water with the crowd that still believes climate change is a Y2K political hoax.

If there are errors in the study, the computer models may be more likely to blame. They’re running the data from NOAA buoys through 11 global climate models and using forecast temperature changes — maybe accurate, maybe not — to project what rising sea temperatures will do to the toxic algae.

You can read the study’s abstract online, and read the whole thing there if you have a Science Direct membership. Begin here:

New amberjack regs

Here come the new Gulf amberjack regulations, coinciding with the reopening of catch-and-keep season on New Year’s Day.

The main thing to know is that on Jan. 4 the minimum size changes from 30 inches to 34 inches fork length in both state and federal waters. Catch all you like, but you can keep only one per person per day.

In Atlantic waters, the minimum size remains 28 inches, also with a limit of one fish.

The new rule is expected by NOAA Fisheries to extend the Gulf recreational season, which will close when the new annual recreational catch limit of 1,255,600 pounds is considered to have been reached. The total limit and other changes are based on a 2014 population assessment and are meant to prevent species depletion caused by over-fishing.

“Gulf of Mexico greater amberjack are currently overfished (population abundance is too low) and undergoing overfishing (rate of removal too high),” NOAA fisheries said when it announced the new regulations.

One cause of overfishing is that 30-inch amberjacks are two years old, and NOAA says only 11 percent of them are mature enough to reproduce. At 34 inches, 85 percent can do it.

If you catch a 30- to not quite 34-incher in the first three days of the year and can’t bear to release it, you’re good. From the fourth forward, you’re bad.

The allowable keeper numbers for 2016: The total commercial and recreational catch limit is reduced from 1,780,000 pounds last year to 1,720,000 this year. The commercial share of that is 464,400 pounds, the recreational share 1,255,600.

To go deeper, to the full regulation and supporting documents, see the NOAA Fisheries website at for more information.

Snook research

Fishing-doers looking for an excuse to go to Orlando should consider signing up in advance for the FWC’s Jan. 13 (Wednesday) snook research and management symposium.

That probably will be the first chance to see the results of the 2015 stock assessment, which will tell us how well the snook population has recovered since the calamitous cold kill of January 2010.

It’s open to the public but sorry, no walk-ups. You have to pre-register by Jan. 6.

The event will be at the Caribe Royale, 8101 World Center Drive, Orlando.

To register online and learn more, check out

If you have questions, send an email to or call 850-487-0554.

Catch and keep seasons for snook are closed until Feb. 1 on the Atlantic Coast, including Lake Okeechobee and Kissimmee River. On the Gulf Coast including the Keys and Everglades National Park, you can't keep snook until March 1.

The closed season is a good time to develop a taste for catch and release fishing. To avoid harming fish you’ll have to turn loose, try circle hooks with natural baits and mash down the barbs on your J hooks for jigs and flies. Don’t use lures with treble hooks unless you nip them down to barbless singles.

Python capture

Have you heard about Florida’s python capture lesson for folks who fantasize about encountering a fearsome Burmese slithering in the wild? You can learn to do it for real. It’s free and it’s fun.
It’s also way easier and safer — or not as hard or dangerous, take your pick — as you might suppose. We know because we did it, along with several other manly gents and a few kids and little old ladies, so we feel righteous about encouraging others.

First you take a one-hour lecture class. The next hour is spent catching pythons, thoughtfully supplied by FWC. Jeff Fobb, an FWC snakeman, taught our group at Everglades Holiday Park in Broward County.

We learned to drag our snakes into convenient positions with a snake hook. That’s a converted golf club with a wide, blunt hook on one end instead of a club head. The only other tool was a gunnysack about the size of a large pillowcase.

Fobb demonstrated how to pin a python down with the snake hook’s rubber grip, grab it behind the neck and stuff it into the gunny sack where it relaxes instead of squirming. “It feels safe in there,” Fobb says.

After catching a python, you phone a certain hotline to report it. Pretty soon someone like Fobb shows up to collect it.

While you’re waiting, if you’re lucky, someone else comes along.

“Whatcha got in the sack?” that one asks, and you show him and he screams “Snake! Snake!” and runs for his life.

Pre-registration required to take the python class. Do it at where you’ll find a schedule of dates and locations of the classes through the first week of February. Locations are listed from Juno Beach to Homestead, as well as Naples and Fort Myers.

Class sizes are limited and they tend to fill up fast, so don’t put it off.