SEMINOLE – If all goes well, fishing in Lake Seminole should be noticeably better in about a year. As part of a continuing effort to revitalize the 700-acre lake, officials from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission released 19,000 largemouth bass fingerlings May 28 along the lake’s eastern shore. The 3-month-old fish, which vary in length from 2 to 4 inches, are expected to be the legal “keeper” size of 14 inches in about a year.

The bad news? It’s a numbers game.

The mortality rate for fingerlings is extremely high with as many as 90 percent becoming snacks for larger fish or birds.

A release of 7,000 fingerlings in October resulted in a survivor rate of about 12 percent, which is considered good.

“I want more,” said Bill Pouder, a fisheries biologist with the FWC.

“I’d be happy with 15 percent but if I got 20 (percent), I’d be ecstatic.”

The fish release is part of a long-term project by the FWC and Pinellas County to clean up the county’s second-largest freshwater lake. State officials drew down the lake two years ago to scrape the bottom, added habitat vegetation along the shoreline and now additional livestock.

“It’s all connected,” said Tom Champeau, regional fisheries administrator for the FWC. “You’ve got to piece it in and do it gradually. We measure our success on whether or not we make fishing better.”

“Our ultimate goal is to get them (fish) to 14 inches and then they’re there for the angler,” said Pouder. “We want them to be harvestable size or better.”

Pouder said Lake Seminole has historically had good-sized fish and overall, the fish population is good in the lake.

However, due to urbanization, stormwater runoff has degraded the quality of the water over the years, adding phosphorus and nitrogen.

“We’re in the process of increasing the population due to the level of quality declining in recent years,” said Pouder.

It is also a study that will affect other FWC projects around the state, such as 6,500-acre Newnan Lake outside of Gainesville.

“This research will be used for management decisions in the future,” said Pouder. “For example, do we have a better survival rate in the spring or the fall? Ultimately, we want to produce more fish for fishermen.”

“A lot of this is research, so we’re learning,” said Champeau. “We might spend a little more here to benefit other areas of the state.”

The project is being funded by federal grants and fees collected for fishing licenses.

Meanwhile, Pinellas County is in the process of constructing two stormwater runoff facilities on the north side of the lake.

Kelli Levy, environmental program coordinator for the county, said the facilities are designed to remove 50 percent of the phosphorus from stormwater runoff.

“We inject alum and it binds to what’s in the water,” she said. “Then the nutrients settle in another area. This only occurs during a rain event.”

The county’s plan is to build a total of six stormwater runoff facilities at various locations around the lake.

Plans also call for three at Lake Tarpon. Lake Maggiore in St. Petersburg already has five in use.

From Staff and Wire Reports