MARIANNA, Fla. — Recovery from Hurricane Michael is still in full force nearly four years after the Category 5 storm walloped the Florida Panhandle destroying homes and wildlife habitats.
Even for fish, the forces of Mother Nature are sometimes too difficult to overcome with rapidly changing water salinity and reduced oxygen levels.
But luckily, a species of fish commonly found in Florida’s Chipola River is getting a second lease on life thanks to biologists at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
As part of the agency’s ongoing efforts to save the shoal bass, biologists said they recently released more than 3,000 fingerlings that were raised in an FWC fish hatchery.
"It is an incredible success to raise these riverine fish in a still-water hatchery pond when they are used to flowing water and limestone shoals in their natural habitat," Bob DeMauro, hatchery manager at FWC’s Blackwater Fisheries Research and Development Center, said in a statement.
Before the hurricane wiped out nearly 90 percent of the population, the shoal bass was a popular species for people fishing to find during the spring and fall near large formations of sediment.
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But if you are looking to reel in one of the fish in the Florida Panhandle, you may want to change up your game plan.
Following Michael, the species was the subject of an executive order that made it illegal to harvest or even possess the fish.
The agency says they’ll keep tabs on the release of the shoal bass through testing to ensure that stocking is helping the population to recover.
The FWC continues to closely monitor other wildlife impacted by the storm’s 160 mph winds and warns that recovery of habitats from hurricanes can take years and may never return to pre-storm levels.