Tag Archive: Month

Keep an Eye on Your Eye Health – August is National Eye Exam Month

Most of us are willing to go to the doctor or the dentist, which are both part of taking care of our health. However, do you go to the eye doctor? If not, you definitely should add it to your healthy lifestyle regime. Eye exams at every age and stage of life can help you keep your vision strong. August is National Eye Exam month; this is the perfect reminder to schedule a comprehensive eye exam.

The Vision Council of America reports that 12.2 million Americans require some sort of vision correction, but do not use any. Nearly 50% of parents with children under 12 have never taken their children to an eye-care professional.

Many people think their eyesight is just fine, but then they get that first pair of glasses or contact lenses and the world becomes much clearer – everything from fine print to street signs. Improving and/or maintaining your eyesight is important – about 11 million Americans over age 12 need vision correction, but that is just one of the reasons to get your eyes examined. Regular eye exams are also an important part of finding eye diseases early and preserving your vision.

Eye diseases are common and can go unnoticed for a long time. Some diseases have no symptoms at first. A comprehensive dilated eye exam by an optometrist (a medical professional with a focus on regular vision care who can prescribe eyeglasses and contacts) or ophthalmologist (a medical eye doctor with a focus on the complete eye health) is necessary to find eye diseases in the early stages when treatment to prevent vision loss is most effective. During the exam, visual acuity (sharpness), depth perception, eye alignment, and eye movement are tested. Eye drops are used to make your pupils larger so your eye doctor can see inside your eyes and check for signs of health problems.

How often should you have an eye exam?

  • A child’s eyes should be checked regularly by an eye doctor or pediatrician. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends vision screening for all children at least once between age 3 and 5 years to detect amblyopia or risk factors for the disease. Amblyopia is when the vision in one of the eyes is reduced because the eye and the brain are not working together properly. The eye itself looks normal, but it is not being used normally because the brain is favoring the other eye. This condition is sometimes called lazy eye.
  • People with diabetes should have a dilated eye exam every year.
  • People with a family history of glaucoma should have an eye exam every year.
  • Adults with good health should have an eye exam at least every 2 years.

Some people are at higher risk for glaucoma and should have a dilated eye exam every 1 to 2 years:

  • African Americans, ages 40 years and older.
  • Everyone older than age 60, especially Mexican Americans.
  • People with a family history of glaucoma.

Early treatment is critically important to prevent some common eye diseases from causing permanent vision loss or blindness:

  •  Cataracts (clouding of the lens), the leading cause of vision loss in the United States.
  • Diabetic retinopathy (causes damage to blood vessels in the back of the eye), the leading cause of blindness in American adults.
  • Glaucoma (a group of diseases that damages the optic nerve).
  • Age-related macular degeneration (gradual breakdown of light-sensitive tissue in the eye).

Other reasons to see your eye doctor: If you have any of the following eye problems, do not wait for your next appointment, schedule your eye appointment as soon as possible:

  • Decreased vision
  • Draining or redness of the eye
  • Eye pain
  • Double vision
  • Diabetes
  • Floaters (tiny specks that appear to float before your eyes)
  • Halos around lights
  • Flashes of light.


Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 10 Tips to Protect Your Vision:

  1. Get a regular comprehensive dilated eye exam.
  2. Know your family’s eye health history.
  3. Eat right to protect your sight. You have heard that carrots are good for your eyes. But eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables—particularly dark leafy greens, such as spinach, kale, or collard greens—is important for keeping your eyes healthy, too.
  4. Maintain a healthy weight.
  5. Wear protective eyewear when playing sports or doing activities around the home. Protective eyewear includes safety glasses and goggles, safety shields, and eye guards specially designed to provide the correct protection.
  6. Be cool and wear your shades. Wear sunglasses that block out 99% to 100% of UV-A and UV-B radiation (the sun’s rays).
  7. Give your eyes a rest. If you spend a lot of time at the computer or focusing on any one thing, you sometimes forget to blink and your eyes can get fatigued. Try the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, look away about 20 feet in front of you for 20 seconds. This short exercise can help reduce eyestrain.
  8. Clean your hands and your contact lenses properly.
  9. Practice workplace eye safety.
  10. Quit smoking or never start.

Of the estimated 61 million US adults at high risk for vision loss, only half visited an eye doctor last year. Regular eye care can have a life-changing impact on preserving the vision of millions of people. Be sure to make your eye health a priority in your life. Healthy eyes lead to better vision and an overall better quality of life.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Sources: Vision Council of America  https://www.thevisioncouncil.org/      Center for Disease Control and Prevention    https://www.cdc.gov/



Author: Melanie Taylor – metaylor@ufl.edu

Melanie Taylor

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2017/08/05/keep-an-eye-on-your-eye-health-august-is-national-eye-exam-month/

October Weather Summary and Three Month Outlook

October Weather Summary and Three Month Outlook

Source: National Weather Service estimates for rainfall in the Florida Panhandle.

Source: National Weather Service estimates for rainfall in the Florida Panhandle.

October Summary

October is historically one of the driest months of the year in the Florida Panhandle.  Much of the western portion of the Panhandle, however, was “O-for-October,” with little to no rainfall this year.  Northern Jefferson County did receive more than 3″ of rain (tan) in October, but the majority of the region had less than 0.25″ (light blue) for the month.

oct-2016-fawn-panhandle-rainfallThe University of Florida’s Florida Automated Weather Network (FAWN) stations recorded limited rainfall in the month of October as well.  The highest total rainfall in October was recorded at the Monticello Station with only 0.9″, while both the Jay and Carrabelle stations did not record any rainfall for the month at all.  The average for all six stations was only 0.3″, which is more than 3″ below average.  For the year the Monticello station had the highest total with 56.1″ through the first 10 months of 2016, which is almost 5″ above historic average for this location.  The driest location remained Marianna with only 41.1″ for the year, which was 5.6″ below average for that location.  To date, only the Monticello and Quincy stations have recorded above historic average rainfall for the year.

Source: National Drought Monitor

Source: National Drought Monitor

Drought conditions in the Southeast grew even worse in October.  The drought that has been so severe in northern Alabama and Georgia has expanded into the Florida Panhandle.  It has been several years since the Panhandle has been in the moderate drought category of the Drought Monitor.

oct-16-marianna-fawn-summaryTemperatures did moderate some in October, but it was certainly warmer than normal as was forecasted.  Average air temperatures fell 7° from 77° in September to 70° in October, while soil temperatures dipped 5° from 86° down to 76°.  This was 2° warmer for the average air temperature and 5° warmer average soil temperature than last year.

La Niña Watch is Back On

The Climate Prediction Center (CPC) is once again forecasting a La Niña winter.  All summer there has been debate about a potential for a warmer and dryer winter based on the development of a La Niña this coming fall and winter.  In late summer the CPC called off the watch, but conditions in the Pacific Ocean have changed.  The following is their latest forecast:
ENSO-Neutral conditions were observed during September, with negative sea surface temperatures anomalies expanding across the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean by early October. All of the Niño regions cooled considerably during late September and early October.  La Niña is favored to develop (~70% chance) during the Northern Hemisphere fall 2016 and slightly favored to persist (~55% chance) during winter 2016-17.  Climate Prediction Center

Looking Ahead – 3 Month Forecast

climate-prediction-center-nov-16-jan-17-outlookThe outlook for the next three months is not very encouraging for cool-season forage or crop production. The CPC is predicting warmer than average temperatures and well below average rainfall from November though January.  Clearly the forecast images above and the drought forecast below are showing the impact of the anticipated La Niña.

nov-january-17-drought-outlookNot only is the current situation serious but is forecasted to continue into the winter months.  It does not look encouraging for winter grazing, or whea or oat grain production this year.  Livestock producers counting on winter grazing for supplementation may be required to invest in additional purchased hay and by-product feeds, if pastures are already planted.  Producers who have been waiting on rain to plant, may want to return seed and exchange them for supplements.  All indications are that the months ahead will remain drier than normal. Hopefully things will improve in 2017.



Author: Doug Mayo – demayo@ufl.edu

Lead Editor for Panhandle Ag e-news – Jackson County Extension Director – Livestock & Forages Agent. My true expertise is with beef cattle and pasture management, but I can assist with information on other livestock species, as well as recreational fish ponds.

Doug Mayo

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2016/11/05/october-weather-summary-and-three-month-outlook/

September is Microplastics Awareness Month

September is Microplastics Awareness Month

Going along with the International Coastal Clean Up, UF/IFAS Extension will be promoting September as Microplastics Awareness month.

The most common form of microplastic are fibers. Photo: UF IFAS St. johns County

The most common form of microplastic are fibers.
Photo: UF IFAS St. johns County

If you have not heard, microplastics are small pieces of plastic < 5mm in diameter. Some are fragments from larger pieces of plastic that have been broken down by the elements, others are produced at that size to be used in products such as stuffed animals or melted in molds to produce larger products.  Some microplastics are small beads used in cosmetics, but the most common are fibers from our linens and clothing.  These fibers are removed during washing and travel through the drain and sewer systems until the reach the sea.  Either way – they end up in our coastal waterways where they have had some negative impacts on marine life.


Some impacts include:

  1. Consumption by plankton give the sensation of being full – thus they stop eating.
  2. A decrease in the reproductive success of oysters.
  3. Negative impacts on hatching rates and activity rates of some species of larval fish, making them more prone to predation.
  4. They have also been found to be more common in sea salt and have been found in the guts of some fish and bivalves sold at seafood markets on the west coast. We are not sure of the impact of human consumption of these products.
Small microbeads called "nurdles" are used to fill stuffed animals and to make larger plastic products. Photo: UF IFAS St. Johns County

Small microbeads called “nurdles” are used to fill stuffed animals and to make larger plastic products.
Photo: UF IFAS St. Johns County

During the month of September, we will be posting short articles on our Facebook pages and on Panhandle Outdoors. Extension will also host a webinar on the topic September 16.  It will be broadcast from 12:15 to 1:00 PM EDT. To register for this webinar go to https://www.eventbrite.com/e/whats-the-big-deal-with-microplastics-webinar-tickets-27070847634.  Please like and share these with your friends so that we can make more people aware of this problem.  If you would like to have a public presentation on microplastics, contact your county Extension office.  Check in on these posts throughout the month.






Author: Rick O’Connor – roc1@ufl.edu

Sea Grant Extension Agent in Escambia County

Rick O’Connor

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2016/09/02/september-is-microplastics-awareness-month/

Celebrate National Blueberry Month!

blueberry-monthDid you know that July is National Blueberry Month? Blueberries are in season now, and reasonably priced at grocery stores, fruit stands, and farmers’ markets.  Many growers also offer a “pick your own” service which can be a fun family outing.  The good news is that this delicious treat has many health benefits.  Blueberries are low in calories- only 80 calories per cup but are packed with nutrients.  A handful of blueberries satisfy the recommended intake of dietary fiber.  They are also high in vitamin C- one serving provides 25% of your daily requirement.  Blueberries are also high in manganese, which helps the body process cholesterol and nutrients such as carbohydrates and protein.

Blueberries are a native North American plant, and it was only within the last 100 years that we have been able to grow them commercially.  All thanks to Elizabeth White, the daughter of a New Jersey farmer, teamed up with USDA botanist Frederick Coville to domesticate the blueberry.  They spent years identifying blueberry plants with desirable qualities for cultivation.  They harvested and sold the first cultivated crop of blueberries in 1916- exactly 100 years ago!  Until 20 years ago, blueberries could only be grown in northern climates like New Jersey, Maine, and Michigan.  Thanks to the University of Florida, southern blueberry cultivars were developed through research that don’t require as many chilling hours and bear more fruit.  Although Florida is not currently the leading producer of blueberries, we are quickly catching up with 25 million pounds produced annually!

Fun Facts about Blueberries:

  • Blueberries are relatives of the rhododendron family
  • The perfect blueberry should have a “dusty’ appearance
  • Don’t wash your blueberries until you are ready to eat them (washing speeds up the spoiling process).
  • To freeze blueberries, place them unwashed, on a cookie sheet and flash freeze.  Then place them in quart-size freezer bags to use later in smoothies, crumbles, cobblers, or ice cream.
  • Recent studies show that blueberries may have the potential to aid in memory loss, vision loss and even slow down the aging process
  • Native Americans recognized the nutritional value of blueberries and used them for medicinal purposes as well as flavorings
  • Early American Colonists used blueberries to dye fabric and also to color paint

This month, celebrate the blueberry by planting a bush, visiting a U-pick farm, or making a tasty home-made blueberry treat.  Fresh From Florida (a division of the Florida Department of Ag) has lots of free and delicious recipes.  Try Florida Blueberry Parfait, Blueberry Breakfast Casserole, Blueberry and Blue Cheese Salad  or even Blueberry Barbecue Sauce!

Additional UF/IFAS Resources about Blueberries:



Author: Heather Kent – hckent@ufl.edu

Heather Kent is the Regional Specialized 4-H Agent in the Northwest Extension District.

Heather Kent

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2016/07/08/celebrate-national-blueberry-month/

April 2016 Weather Summary and 3 Month Outlook

April 2016 Weather Summary and 3 Month Outlook

Natiaonal Weather Service estimates for April 2016 rainfall across the Florida Panhandle.

National Weather Service estimates for April 2016 rainfall across the Florida Panhandle.

April was a wetter than average month in most locations across the Panhandle, but nothing like the April rains of 2014 and 15.  There were a few pockets in hot pink that had over 10″ of rainfall for the month while portions of Gulf and Franklin received less than 4″ along the Gulf Coast. The majority of the Panhandle ranged from 4-8″ for the month.

16 Jan-Apr Panhandle FAWN RainfallThe five Florida Automated Weather Network (FAWN) stations also showed some variation for the month of April.  The Quincy Station gauge had an error for the months of March and April, so a total for this site cannot be provided.  The average of the other five FAWN stations was 5.9″.  While all five locations were above historic averages, the month was much more normal that the previous two years with 8.1″ in April 2015, and 13.5″ in 2014.  Through the first four months of 2016 there were three sites that totaled over 25″ – Monticello, DeFuniak, and Jay.  In comparison, the Carrabelle station has only recorded 18″ in 2016.  The difference this year is the moisture that came at the end of 2015.  The actual rainfall that fell in 2016 was not that far above normal, but it fell on already moist to saturated soils that are now beginning to dry out again with typical May warm temperatures and high pressure systems limiting rainfall.

16 Jan-Apr Marianna FAWN SummaryTemperatures did warm up considerably in April.  The average air temperature climbed up another four degrees for the month.  Unfortunately the soil sensor at Marianna went bad, so there is not an accurate measure of the increase there, but for sure it was warmer than the previous three months.

May – July Outlook

May-July 16 OutlookThe outlook for the next three months, May-July, from the Climate Prediction Center is forecasting above average temperatures and rainfall.  With much of the region in the middle of peanut and cotton planting, this forecast is good news.  If the rainfall continues on a regular basis, these crops should get off to a nice start for the season.  Hopefully it won’t heat up too much, and dry out the moisture that has built up all winter.

El Niño Update

Not much has changed with the El Niño forecast.  True to expectations sea surface temperatures continued a slow cooling toward normal in April, but are still warm enough to drive the above outlook with above average rainfall as we finish out the Spring.

During mid-April 2016 the positive tropical Pacific sea surface temperature (SST) anomaly was weakening, now indicating only a moderate strength El Niño. All atmospheric variables continue to support the El Niño pattern, but at reduced strength. This includes weakened trade winds and excess rainfall in the east-central tropical Pacific, extending eastward to a lesser extent than last month. Most ENSO prediction models indicate continued weakening El Niño conditions during the rest of the northern spring season, returning to neutral by late spring or early summer 2016, with La Niña development likely by fall. – International Research Institute for Climate and Society


Author: Doug Mayo – demayo@ufl.edu

Lead Editor for Panhandle Ag e-news – Jackson County Extension Director – Livestock & Forages Agent. My true expertise is with beef cattle and pasture management, but I can assist with information on other livestock species, as well as recreational fish ponds.

Doug Mayo

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2016/05/14/april-2016-weather-summary-and-3-month-outlook/

Celebrate National Nutrition Month

Celebrate National Nutrition Month

NNM 2016 Logo2Celebrating the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics National Nutrition Month each March is the perfect time to focus on your health needs and set new nutritional goals. A couple of key messages for this year’s theme include discovering new ways to prepare meals that trim sodium and practicing mindful eating behaviors. Make it your goal to incorporate at least one of the following tips into your lifestyle so you can “Savor the Flavor of Eating Right!”

Get Creative with Herbs and Spices

Instead of adding salt or condiments high in sodium to your food, consider using herbs such as rosemary, basil, mint, oregano, or cilantro. Spices such as cinnamon, ginger, paprika, pepper, and cumin are another great option to include in your favorite meals. Flavoring with herbs and spices instead of salt can help reduce your sodium intake without sacrificing taste.

Appreciate Each Bite

Take time to appreciate every flavor, texture, and the overall eating experience at each meal. Eating slowly and enjoying every bite gives your stomach time to tell your brain that you are satisfied. This practice may help you eat less overall, as well as assist you in reaching your nutritional goals.

Practice Mindful Eating

Think about where you eat a majority of your meals. Eating at your desk or in front of a television can be distracting and may cause you to overeat. Aim to find a place where you can focus solely on your meal instead of trying to multitask while eating.

To learn more about how you can savor the flavor of eating right, visit www.eatright.org or contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Office.



Author: amymullins – amymullins@ufl.edu

Amy Mullins is a Family and Consumer Sciences Agent responsible for coordinating the Adult Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program in Leon County. Amy is a Registered Dietitian and a graduate of The University of Florida and Florida State University.


Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2016/03/11/celebrate-national-nutrition-month/

National Seafood Month – the future of seafood

National Seafood Month – the future of seafood

So what now?

What lies ahead for the seafood industry in the Florida Panhandle?


Well I will start by saying I do not have a crystal ball… so I truly do not know, but most people plan for the future and many have looked at what COULD happen for Florida seafood.


Shrimping.  Photo: NOAA

Photo: NOAA


Will the demand for seafood still be there in the future?


In short… yes

Recent reports indicate that Americans are not consuming the recommended 3-6 ounces of seafood a week. Though many Floridians are not consuming this amount either they are consuming above the national average of 3.5 ounces. Seafood is still important to us. Community fish fries are a part of our culture and will be around. The popularity of sushi and other methods of preparing seafood has increased in recent years. There will be a demand for some seafood products. In the Pensacola area there has been recent interest in buying local seafood. Whether they are willing to pay higher prices than the foreign imports is to be seen but there is still a market for seafood products.


Can the seafood industry meet this demand?


That depends…

Several commercially valuable species have been deemed “overfished”. If the demand for these products increases there could be a problem meeting due to either regulations forbidding the industry to do so, or the numbers of fish available may make it prohibitive. For some species they may become part of a smaller higher paying market. There may be new species introduced that could be marketed and meet the demand, lionfish for example. The demand for this fish is growing but the availability is still low due to method of capture. At the moment the most effective method of harvesting lionfish is by spearing. We do not have enough divers to meet the 500 lbs. of fish / week/ restaurant currently requested. But there is another option to consider… aquaculture.



Humans have been growing our food for centuries (agriculture). There are few societies on our planet today they acquire their meat and vegetables solely by hunting and gathering. Aquaculture has also been around for centuries as well, just not in the United States. With the increasing world population, and the need for food along with it, scientists have been working on more efficient ways to produce food for over 100 years. The “green revolution” appeared in the mid 20th century and the impact was huge. The American food machine was churning out products like never before. It did come with a price for the environment around the farms, and there is concern now about the problems with high densities in some livestock operations, but the food is there. Many scientists believe aquaculture will be the method to meet the future seafood demand. Many are not surprised to learn that farm raised fish is common in most supermarkets, but they may be surprised to learn that 80-90% of it is imported from overseas. When we hear “farm raised” we immediately think of Mississippi catfish… which is local right? But in fact much of it is from Asia and Central America.

Indoor aquaculture projects are found throughout Florida.   Photo: Florida Sea Grant

Indoor aquaculture projects are found throughout Florida.
Photo: Florida Sea Grant


Will aquaculture increase in the Florida panhandle and will the public be okay with it?


I do not know.

Many Florida Panhandlers catch their own seafood, and there have been issues between the recreational and commercial fishermen for a few years now. Either way many Panhandlers will seek out fresh local seafood and provide it for their families. Whether they will embrace aquaculture is to be seen.


Either way seafood should be a part of our weekly diet. For many, the post oil spill fear of safety is no longer a concern. There is science that indicates our seafood is safe to eat. The concerns about mercury are real but low consumption of mercury target species (no more than one serving a week) has been deemed safe. For pregnant women (or women trying to become pregnant) this fear has kept them away from all seafood during their pregnancy. A recent study showed that there are important nutrients and vitamins provided in seafood products that are much needed during development and some women are not getting these. The recommendation here is to eat seafood but consume products not high in mercury. There are several agencies who post which species are high in mercury and which are low.


The seafood industry is an important part of panhandle history and culture. Though the industry has fallen on tough times I feel some form of commercial fishing will be around for a few years. We hope you learned something from this series during National Seafood Month and encourage you to ENJOY GULF SEAFOOD!


Additional resources:





mercury list



Florida Department of Health – seafood safety



FWC – mercury



Florida Sea Grant


NOAA-NMFS seafood recommendations




Author: Rick O’Connor – roc1@ufl.edu

Sea Grant Extension Agent in Escambia County

Rick O’Connor

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2015/10/31/national-seafood-month-the-future-of-seafood/

National Seafood Month – Blue Crabs

National Seafood Month – Blue Crabs

Well… we have talked about the “big two”… snapper and shrimp, but there are other popular fin and shellfish harvested from the Gulf of Mexico.  This week we look at my personal favorite… blue crab.


Probably like many of you out there, the very first sea creature I ever caught was a blue crab.  It was with one of those classic basket traps where you baited it, lowered to the bottom where you could see, waited until a crab came for the bait, and pulled her in… GREAT fun.  My parents cooked the crab, saved the shell and dated it.  It sat on the cabinet above our breakfast bar for years.  It was something I did every summer off the dock of the house we rented on Pensacola Beach… good times.


The thin telson beneath this crab indicates it is a male.  Photo: FWC

The thin telson beneath this crab indicates it is a male.
Photo: FWC

As I got older we switched from crab traps to hand-held crab nets.  We would spend hours searching the grass beds around Gulf Breeze collecting and cleaning these guys.  I remember cleaning over 60 of them once until my hands bled, that was about the time I thought I would let the commercial guys do this and I would just buy it from them!

As much fun as I had catching them, I had just as much fun cooking.  My wife and I would make deviled crab and one of my personal favorites of hers, crab meat baked on an English muffin with cheese.  Man o’ man.  What a great creature the crab.


There are about 4500 species of “true crabs” found on our planet and many are valuable as a seafood product.  In the Florida Panhandle it is the Blue Crab most seek out.  In recent years commercial and recreational crabbers have noticed a decline in their numbers.  Landings of blue crab ranged between 8 and 12 million pounds in Florida from 1982-1999 and since 2000 the landings have ranged from 4 to 8 million pounds.  Researchers with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission have run several models to determine why the decline in landings has occurred.  Though the decline in the Chesapeake may be due to overfishing, the models do not suggest this for Florida.  They are not sure why the decline has happened but do have data that support the argument that freshwater discharge during heavy rain events does impact their population in a negative way.  Some data suggest the increase in salinity during drought conditions has done the same.  Whatever the reason, many would like to see their numbers rebound to the 12 million lb. landings we had just a few years ago.


Blue crabs typically live to be 1-2 years old, though some have been aged to 5 years.  Males prefer the less saline waters of the upper estuary and the females can be found throughout the bay.  Males reproduce more than once in their lives providing the females with a sack of sperm called a spermatophore.  Females mate only once, just after their last molt.  Once she has received the spermatophore she heads for the mouth of the bay where the water is more saline, she may enter the Gulf of Mexico searching for the right habitat.  When she fertilizers her eggs they remain with her as a mass on her underside; the egg mass resembles a sponge.  The larva hatch from this mass and go through several development stages as they re-enter the estuary and begin the cycle again.

Male blue crab

Whatever the reason for their decline, and recent increase in price, these crustaceans remain a Gulf coast favorite and I for one hope they remain around for a long time.


Author: Rick O’Connor – roc1@ufl.edu

Sea Grant Extension Agent in Escambia County

Rick O’Connor

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2015/10/23/national-seafood-month-blue-crabs/

National Seafood Month… Red Snapper

National Seafood Month… Red Snapper

If shrimp are king of the shellfish industry, then red snapper are the king of the finfish world. It is arguably the most economically and ecologically important reef fish in the Gulf of Mexico. This fishery began in 1872 with four “snapper smacks” out of Pensacola. By 1890 the fleet had grown to 34 vessels and had extended to other panhandle ports as well as Mobile, AL. They fished local waters for the most part but began to harvest from Campeche MX, where the fish gets its scientific name Lutjanus campechanus. By 1910 the majority of the catch was coming from the Campeche Banks, but by the 1930’s the focus of the fishery was again in U.S. waters. By the mid 20th century a steady decrease in landings began to occur and today the fishery is considered overfished.

A snapper smack from the 19th century. Photo: Brown Marine Pensacola

A snapper smack from the 19th century.
Photo: Brown Marine Pensacola


So what do we know about this “king of finfish”? Well, red snapper begin their lives like most fish, as planktonic larva. The larva first appear in northern Gulf around May and are found through November, with numbers peaking from July through September. Though they settle out from the plankton near hard structure, muddy bottom habitats appear to be very important as foraging grounds. Red snapper seem to stay close the hard structures they settle out near, though some movement does occur, particularly with snapper living deeper than 120 feet. They feed on zooplankton when they are young and move to a diet of small reef fish and crustaceans as adults; mantis shrimp are a particular favorite. Red snapper have been reported to live all most 50 years.




The problems with the fishery began in the mid 20th century. Though snapper were listed as overfished by the National Marine Fisheries Service their problems go beyond just overfishing. By-catch in shrimp trawls is a particular problem. Much research and money have been spent to solve this problem. Science has found that young snapper, typically caught in trawls, do not like bright light and experimental trawls with LED lighting have been tested; studies continue.


The king of finfish... the red snapper Photo: Florida Sea Grant

The king of finfish… the red snapper
Photo: Florida Sea Grant

In 1976 the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act was passed. By 1984 the first size and bag limits were issued and by 1988 the fishery was officially listed as overfished. Success at increasing numbers with the size and bag limits was low due to the shrimping by-catch issue and because many were not surviving the catch and release methods being used to return undersized fish. Studies show that snapper captured at depth experienced pressure problems as they are reeled to the service. This drastic change in pressure caused their swim bladders to expand, or rupture, a process known as barotrauma. Undersized (or over limit) fish had to be released. Those experiencing barotrauma were not surviving. Their expanded swim bladders would cause some to float – typically called “floaters” – and they were easy targets for sharks and dolphins. Others may descend slowly or reach the bottom but are still under stress and, again, were easy targets. Others still survived the release only to have issues with growth and immune function. Several techniques are used by fishing to reduce barotrauma, such as venting, but their success is debated and is currently under study.


One of the many version of descending devices used by fishermen to return snapper to depth.  Photo: Florida Sea Grant

One of the many version of descending devices used by fishermen to return snapper to depth.
Photo: Florida Sea Grant


Despite management plans the fishery is still considered overfished. Solving the problem will require plans to deal with the by-catch and barotrauma issues but will also have to address the socio-economic issues of the management itself. Many families depend on this fishery for their livelihood and though a complete ban on the species for a period of time may be beneficial to the fish stock, it may not be practical. Researchers, fisheries managers, and others will continue to work on solving this problem and hopefully the “king of finfish” will be with us for a long time.


Author: Rick O’Connor – roc1@ufl.edu

Sea Grant Extension Agent in Escambia County

Rick O’Connor

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2015/10/17/national-seafood-month-red-snapper/

National Seafood Month – shrimp

National Seafood Month – shrimp

Shrimp… nothing says seafood along the Gulf coast like shrimp. It has been a staple part of our diet for decades; boiled, fried, steamed, stuffed, shish-kabobbed, As Forrest Gump said there are a million ways to cook shrimp and as Jack and Anne Rudloe mention their book, Shrimp, the Endless Quest for Pink Gold, there are many cookbooks dedicated to preparing one of the most popular seafood species.

The book published by jack and Anne Rudloe in 2010.

The book published by jack and Anne Rudloe in 2010.


Growing up in Pensacola I remember the shrimp boats lining Palafox Street at the Bayfront Auditorium. You could drive down with your cooler almost any day and purchase white or brown shrimp for $ 2-3 a pound. The boats were beautifully painted with red and blue colors. Their coolers were full and we would fill ours, take them home, de-head them, and then have to decide how we wanted to prepare them… fry? Shrimp and grits? Boiled? They were college football tail gating food, birthday celebrations, and I cannot remember a wedding reception I went to, including my own, where shrimp was not served in some form or fashion. It’s a great product, taste great, and good for you. Bu things are changing…


Locals along the panhandle might be surprised that shrimping, as we know it, did not begin here. Many who think of “shrimping” immediately think of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Old wooden boats with nets draped everywhere and the familiar sound of the diesel engine in the early morning silence as they bring in the evenings catch. But according to the Rudloe’s commercial shrimping began in California. In their book they describe the evolution of the shrimping industry. Shrimp were in abundance in early human history, and relatively easy to catch. Archeologists assume they consumed large quantities of them but their chitonous shells do not preserve well so we are not sure. There are preserved nets from that time period which probably captured shrimp along with other small nearshore species. They were harvested in Europe, Africa, and certainly Asia using both nets and traps.


As these cultures came to the New World they brought with them the methods of capturing. Native Americans too used weirs and traps to collect. But it was Chinese who came to San Francisco during the gold rush that brought the idea of pulling nets behind their Chinese Junks and small shrimping villages began to pop around the Bay area. Though Cajuns had been shrimping in the Gulf before the Declaration of Independence was signed using beach seines, trawling behind boats did not come until later. At first these earlier shrimpers used sailing schooners and hauled the nets by hand but eventually the internal combustion engine arrived and both boat and winch power made the job easier and they could stay our longer. Dried shrimp was how the product was sold at first but the introduction of refrigeration meant shrimp could be brought in fresh, and the laundry list of how to prepare began. The amount of shrimp demanded stronger vessels, they switched from wood to steel and fiberglass vessels, and stronger power to pull these large nets, and they switched to diesel. With better vessels and power they could drop more than one net, shrimp boats were now seen with double booms and they could move farther offshore.

Shrimping. Photo: NOAA

Photo: NOAA

There are literally thousands of different species of shrimp in the world’s oceans but only a few are collected for food. In some cultures the small inshore species are the targets. Today some prefer the deep water ruby reds that could be collected only when the technology allowed. But most of us prefer shrimp from the Family Penaidae. White shrimp (gulf shrimp – Litopenaeus setiferus), brown shrimp (bay shrimp, “brownies” – Farfantepennaeus aztectus), and the pink shrimp (Farfantepenaeus duorarum) are the species locals enjoy. 90% of these three species sold are harvested from the Gulf of Mexico supporting, in some cases, whole communities. Then things began to turn “south”…


According to NOAA’s Fishwatch.gov the fishery is not currently being overfished. The problem with today’s shrimping industry is economic and environmental.


The basic otter trawl used for shrimping. Photo: North Carolina State University

The basic otter trawl used for shrimping.
Photo: North Carolina State University


Economically, the cost of diesel has increased and for a 12,000 gallon vessel can cost the fishermen $ 50,000 per trip.

Bartering with wholesalers, many shrimpers will make 45% of their annual income in the first 45 days of the shrimping season, making tough times down the road – literally a “boom-bust” business.

Aquaculture… farmed raised shrimp has been around for centuries and the increased demand for the product many have turned to farmed shrimp to keep cost down. Many will be surprised to learn that 80-90% of the seafood consumed in the United States is farmed product from overseas. These low prices are difficult for the traditional ocean harvesting shrimper to compete with. You may also not know that a large amount of the product farmed overseas is not allowed to enter into the United States because of their method of using hormones to accelerate growth.



Environmentally, the trawl… As they drag their nets across the bottom they remove a lot of marine life in addition to the target species of shrimp. The otter trawl is opened using wooden doors and is pulled along the bottom using a chain (known as a “tickler”) to force the buried nocturnal shrimp to “pop up”. Trawled over seagrass beds they can do a lot of damage. Some studies have shown that almost 60% of the catch is what has been termed “trash fish” or “by-catch”. The Ocean Conservancy reports that after the World War II, when technology significantly improved for shrimpers, the by-catch to shrimp ratio was 4:1. Pressure from environmental groupers and other fisheries forced regulations on when, where, and how trawling would occur in attempts to reduce by-catch and damage to sensitive bottom habitat.

Sea turtles… one of the by-catch species were the federally protected marine turtles. This forced a change that required a Turtle Excluder Device (TEDS) to be installed into the trawl.

The oil spill… shrimpers certainly suffered from this incident and 10 years later in many parts of the Gulf the problems still exist.

We of course cannot forget “Mother Nature”. Hurricanes can change the ecology of the system enough to decrease available shrimp for several years.

The famous Gulf Coast shrimp. Photo: Mississippi State University

The famous Gulf Coast shrimp.
Photo: Mississippi State University

All in all these economic and environmental issues have forced many out of the business. A few years ago the shrimping fleet in Pensacola numbers between 40 and 50 vessels, today there are about 10. Times are hard on the traditional shrimper… but despite these setbacks it still remains one of the more popular seafood species.


Author: Rick O’Connor – roc1@ufl.edu

Sea Grant Extension Agent in Escambia County

Rick O’Connor

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2015/10/09/national-seafood-month-shrimp/

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