The future of South Florida’s freshwater fishing

man fishing

From backyard canals, to vast lakes, South Florida is a place where you truly never know what’s on the end of a fisher’s line.

Non-native fish have been affecting the environment for native species, and could shape the future for South Florida’s freshwater fishing experience.

One of the earliest freshwater fish to invade South Florida was the Southeast Asian walking catfish, first documented in Broward Country in 1967. It gets its name from its ability to slither across dry land to find water.

The Southeast Asian swarmed into South Florida canals in the late ‘60s, along with warnings that it would decimate native populations. Now more than 50 years after its introduction, the walking catfish’s numbers have decreased, and not had any major detrimental effects.

This is a common theme among exotic fish in South Florida, according to Joel Trexler, an ecologist in the Department of Biological Sciences, who studies fish in the Everglades.

Trexler suggests to bring up the question if invasive species are clearly “bad” for Everglades restoration. If the exotic fish became abundant in the Everglades, could they help restore its population of wading birds as a consistent food source?

However, releasing anything into freshwater is best avoided as it could damage the environment of native species. Anything that ends up in South Florida canals could potentially end up in the Everglades.

“People bring species around. It’s just a subset of them that becomes a problem, says Trexler. “You never know what impact something you release in your backyard is going to have, even if most times such introductions are benign.”

With South Florida’s year-round warmth and deep canals that connect just about every body of water in the city and suburbs, it creates an economic environment where all kinds of species can thrive.

Read more on how different exotic fish have invaded South Florida on The Miami Herald.