More than 50 onlookers gathered an at nondescript boat ramp in Cocoa Beach, Florida, to watch the release of approximately 15,000 juvenile redfish into the Indian River Lagoon. The initiative, titled “Release the East,” is part of a broader effort by Coastal Conservation Association Florida (CCA Florida) to revitalize the state’s dwindling redfish population, done in partnership with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) and Duke Energy.
Multiple trailers carrying custom-made tanks pulled into Ramp Road Park shortly after 1 p.m. on Friday, November 4. After a quick photo op and ceremonial first releases, a long yellow tube was attached to the tanks, which a volunteer carried into the Banana River, wading in up to his waist. A valve was opened, and a deluge of four-inch juvenile redfish darted into the water, many of them quickly diving and taking cover in the nearby mangroves. A local TV news crew captured the moment, as did a hovering crowd holding up iPhones and GoPros.
“East Coast anglers have seen the drastic decline of the local redfish population,” said CCA Florida executive director Brian Gorski, “and we knew it was our responsibility to help revitalize this iconic fishery.”
The 15,000 juveniles were raised at Duke Energy’s Crystal River Mariculture Center in Citrus County. To date, CCA Florida and Duke Energy have released more than 150,000 redfish and spotted sea trout across the state, as well as 5 million fish and crustaceans in the Gulf of Mexico. The facility has also grown 8 million native plants for various lake and spring restoration projects.
Release the East was seeded three years ago, and made possible by $100,000 in investment in feed, supplies and equipment. The Cocoa Beach event marks the launch of this initiative, with more scheduled for Florida’s East Coast next year.
“Ensuring our redfish population is sustainable is crucial for the conservation of this important species and allows us to continue to be able to enjoy the resources Florida has to offer,” said Eric Sutton, FWC executive director.
As the last juveniles were being released, an onlooker in mirrored Costas asked a CCA Florida volunteer if their work was going to be a successful considering the compromised health of the Indian River Lagoon.
“It’s better than not doing anything,” the volunteer responded.