Every month Florida's seafood dealers record and report the amount and type of saltwater fish they buy from commercial fishermen. The graphs on this page reflect the "landings" in Dade County between 1978 and 1995 for six popular species, as compiled by the Florida Marine Research Institute in St. Petersburg.
Analyzing the fluctuations in fish landings can be tricky, say scientists at the institute. A sudden rise or fall in the catch of a particular fish is rarely attributable to a single factor. Sometimes a sharp decrease in landings can indicate a species temporarily in decline. But just as often it might be the result of a change in government regulations specifying minimum size or prohibiting the use of some type of equipment. Market prices, weather, and consumer patterns also affect the size of a catch in any given year.
Institute biologist Robert Mueller reports that landings for grouper and red snapper, for example, have generally declined because of size restrictions imposed in recent years -- a larger minimum size means fewer fish qualify. The dramatic rise in sharks can likely be attributed to fishermen harvesting new species to sell in lieu of traditionally popular fish that have become less abundant. The phenomenal increase in amberjack during the early Nineties was apparently prompted by a consumer-driven demand for smoked amberjack.
Sometimes, says Mueller, the most reliable indication of fish levels comes directly from the fishermen themselves -- and their stories.