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Spatial and Size Distribution of Red Drum Caught and Released in Tampa Bay, Florida, and Factors Associated with Post-Release Hooking Mortality

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The recreational fishery for red drum (Sciaenops ocellatus) in Florida is unusual in that most red drum targeted are immature and caught within estuarine waters. Current state regulations rely exclusively on bag and size limits, resulting in the release of a large proportion of captured individuals. This study employed hook-and-line sampling conducted monthly in Tampa Bay, Florida and catch-and-release mortality experiments to determine the spatial and size distribution of red drum and the mortality rate of released fish, respectively. Of the 1,405 red drum collected, more than 70% were smaller than the minimum legal size (457 mm standard length (SL)). Size structure of red drum varied spatially and reflected ontogenetic patterns of habitat use. Data collected during catch-and-release mortality experiments were analyzed to identify factors associated with mortality. A total of 251 red drum (203-618 mm SL) were caught and held for 48 h during 9 experiments, with an overall mortality rate of 5.6%. Higher water temperature and anatomical hook position were significantly correlated with mortality; lip-hooked fish had the lowest mortality rate, while throat-hooked fish had the highest. Although hook type was not correlated with mortality, it did influence whether a fish was deep-hooked. Fish caught by J-hooks were more likely to be deep-hooked than those caught by circle hooks. Catch-and-release fishing is an effective management tool for reducing take but may contribute to short-term mortality, especially in warm, subtropical estuaries.

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