The Contribution of an Exotic Fish, the Oscar, to the Sport Fishery of the Everglades Water Conservation Areas

An illegally introduced exotic fish species has now become a significant and extremely popular fishery in the Everglades Water Conservation Areas (WCA's). The oscar (Astronotus ocellatus) was accidentally introduced in the 1950s and became established in south Florida waterways. A gradual range expansion occurred; however, oscar populations remained low until the mid-1980s. For approximately 25 years, catches were infrequent and singular. Following an unexplained and accelerated population expansion, angler catches became more frequent and multiple. Recent peak season angler surveys in the Everglades have documented a substantial oscar fishery in terms of harvest and effort. The total number of oscar harvested in WCA-2A peaked at 11,583 in 1986-87, but dropped to 0 by the last year of the survey in that area (1989-90) for reasons which are unclear. During 3 consecutive surveys (1990-93) in WCA-3A, oscar was the number one species harvested. An estimated 99,590 oscar were harvested, which represented 63% of the total harvest. The mean total harvest rate from the 3 surveys was 2.73 per man-hour, compared to 2.36 per man-hour for all panfish, including black crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus), combined. Oscar ranked a close second behind largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides) as the most sought after species. Many anglers who typically fished for black crappie on Lake Okeechobee relocated to the Everglades to fish specifically for oscar. Oscar sampled from the creels had a mean length of 252 mm and a mean weight of 410 g. Fifty percent of the oscar anglers interviewed used artificial lures, while other anglers used either crickets, minnows, shrimp, worms, or cut-bait. The largest documented oscar caught in the Everglades weighed 790 g.

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