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Date of Issue: October 13, 2005

Sandscript

Grouper ban stalled in Gulf, crab tales, seaweed recipes?

The jury is still out on a recreational grouper fishery ban in 2006. Almost literally out.

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council voted not to vote on a one-month fishing ban from Feb. 15 to March 15 next year.

The closure was argued as necessary by some to help restore the fishery. Others argued that the ban would economically adversely impact the grouper industry.

The vote was close - six to five to delay any closures.

The council decision does not impact the two-month commercial closure that took effect Monday in Gulf waters, nor does it change any bag limit restrictions currently in place.

More grouper news

Part of the fishery management council's deliberations were based on a Mote Marine Laboratory study on grouper fishing in the Gulf, with a special focus on longline fishing.

Longliners use numerous baited hooks dangling from long lines in deep waters. Remember the fishing technique in "The Perfect Storm" for swordfish? Same thing, different fish.

Proponents of longlining state it's an effective tool to bring fish to the table. Opponents claim that the fishing method is indiscriminate as to species catch and species size and harmful to the whole marine environment.

In traditional hook-and-line fishing with a rod, undersize fish are tossed back to grow bigger. Longlining doesn't offer that sorting option.

Mote got a grant from the National Marine Fisheries Service two years ago to study longlining, according to the St. Petersburg Times. The Sarasota marine lab farmed out part of the study to the longline industry, since it lacked boats and manpower for the up close and personal observations needed.

And in turn, one of the people hired to assist in the study was a longline fisher who was charged with possession of undersized grouper and cobia and fined $1,500 in 1999.

Opponents of any kind of fishery ban cried foul due to the convicted fisher's participation in the study and questioned the data collected.

Quiet, please

Six years ago, Manatee County officials approved a law that pretty much prohibited airboat operation in the bays and Gulf. There were several rental operators that were providing backwater tours via airboat, and waterfront residents complained about the practice, mostly due to the really, really loud aircraft engines that power the vessels. The county's reaction was to pretty much prohibit airboat operation in the bays.

Now, the state is somewhat following Manatee County's action and is expected to pass a muffler law for all airboats operating in Florida.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has directed staff to draft a new rule. Public hearings are scheduled for late November and a final decision is expected Dec. 2. The law could be in effect by the end of the year.

Giant squid finally poses for pictures

Japanese scientists have taken the first pictures of a giant squid in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Tokyo.

The giant squid took a baited hook in about 3,300 feet of water and was snagged there for several hours, allowing the scientists to snap more than 550 digital pictures before it broke loose. It was estimated to be about 26 feet long.

Marine experts have been fascinated by the creature since the carcass of one was found off Newfoundland in 1874. Jules Verne was so taken by the critter that he featured it battling Capt. Nemo's ship "Nautilus" in his book, "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea."

Giant squid are a favorite food for sperm whales. Sometimes, the sperm whales don't win in the lunch stakes.

The remains of a giant squid are on display at Mote Marine Laboratory, by the way, if you want to get up close and personal with one of the mysteries of the sea.

'Dexter' coming to a TV near you soon

Florida mystery fiction fans may get a chance to watch one of their more unusual characters on television in the near future.

Filming of a Showtime pilot based on a novel by South Florida author Jeffrey Lindsay has begun. The show, titled "Dexter," is based on Lindsay's first book, "Darkly Dreaming Dexter." As a Showtime release put it, "The new pilot follows Dexter Morgan, a mild-mannered, likeable forensics expert for the police department who moonlights as a serial killer with a penchant for inflicting his own unusual brand of retribution - he 'only' murders or maims 'the guilty.'"

The show stars Michael C. Hall, who appeared in the cable TV series "Six Feet Under."

By the way, Miami-Dade County has really come a long way in attracting TV and movie action. According to the office of film and entertainment there, the area has had "over 2,400 motion picture and video businesses, over 400 production companies, 27 sound stages and 150 post-production facilities among other services" in the past few years.

They're not alone in reaping the benefits of the lucrative filming industry. My friend Pam Kline is the film commissioner for the Sarasota Visitor and Convention Bureau. She cranked some numbers last year that indicated that filming of commercials, catalogue shoots and other such action in Sarasota County brought in more than $8 million.

Not bad, considering she's a staff of one. Seems that people just love the Florida sun, sand and surf for shoots.

Designer air?

Maybe you've heard of the "air bars" that have sprouted in some spots around the country. You go in and drop a few bucks for a hit of pure oxygen, pretty much the same way the rest of us belly up for a margarita.

But the new air trend is pure nitrogen for your vehicle's tires, at a cost of up to $10 per tire.

Apparently nitrogen, which has larger molecules than what we breathe, doesn't tend to leak out of tires as readily as the air that you pump in at the gas stations. By keeping properly inflated tires on your vehicle, you get better wear out of your tires, better gas mileage and a safer ride.

A local mechanic was somewhat skeptical of the whole concept. When he stopped laughing, he said that nitrogen has been used in high-performance vehicles like race cars for years, that in theory it would probably work, but that the cost was a little high for the owners of most of the beater cars he works on.

"Hell, some of the big truck owners that come by here would probably use $50 worth of nitrogen in just one tire," he said, "and it's usually all those guys can do to pay me for an oil change."

But if you're looking for all the best in your vehicle, go forth and fill 'er up with nitrogen.

Yum, yum - more seaweed for Jabba

Seaweed may be the new designer food.

According to Maia McGuire, a Northeast Florida marine extension agent, seaweed is a popular food in some parts of the world.

"Many people are accustomed to having sushi wrapped in seaweed," she wrote in the current edition of "The Marine Scene," but there are many different ways of preparing seaweed.

"In Hawaii, it is traditional to eat raw seaweed, while in Japan the seaweed is typically pickled. In China, seaweeds are cooked before they are eaten. Sargassum, the brown seaweed that washes up on our beaches in storms, can be rinsed in freshwater, patted dry and then deep fried to make a crunchy snack."

Right, Maia. Yum. Yuck. I think I'll stick to stone crab claws, and don't forget that the season opens Saturday. Be sure to put in an order at your local fish house.

Sandscript factoid

Speaking of crabs, here's the lowdown on how crabs molt, or shed their shells, also from "The Marine Scene."

"Unlike snails, which can continually enlarge their shell, crabs and other marine crustaceans like lobsters and shrimp will outgrow their shells. When this happens, their shells split along a joint. For crabs, this split occurs at the back edge of the upper portion of the shell. The crab then backs out of the shell, carefully pulling each body part out of its protective hard covering. Even the eyes have a clear covering.

"At this point, the crab has a soft shell - yes, softshell crabs are blue crabs that have just molted - which is slightly stretchy. The crab then takes in water, causing the soft shell to expand in size. The crab will find a hiding place for a day or two, until the new shell has hardened. Then the crab can release the extra water, and will have some room to grow into its new shell.

"The frequency of molts is affected by the size and age of the crab, the amount of food available, and environmental conditions like water temperature. On average, blue crabs increase in size by one-third with each molt."

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