December 12, 2010
Tropicalia wild file: Common snook
The word has gone out: Low water temperatures have manatees, which are extremely cold-sensitive, on the move toward warm-water refuges.
But let's not forget about another local cold-sensitive water critter: The common snook, one of Florida's most popular (and tasty) game fish, which, like manatees, can die from exposure to cold. Adult snook can go belly up when water temperatures drop below 55 degrees, and hundreds of thousands died statewide during January's record cold temperatures - earlier this week, Lee County water temperatures dipped into the high 50s, but no dead snook had been reported at press time.
Due to the cold kill, the state has banned the harvest of snook in Gulf waters, Everglades National Park and Monroe County until Sept. 1.
In 1957, the Florida Legislature passed a bill prohibiting the commercial capture and sale of snook, which remains a very important recreational target: Between July 1, 2009, and June 30, 2010, 164,887 people in Florida bought snook stamps (permits to keep snook); 11,374 of those were bought by Lee County residents.
While common snook range from the coastal mid-Atlantic United States to Brazil, including the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean, the center of abundance is coastal Florida.
To avoid predators, juvenile snook hang out in small creeks or in mangroves. Adults, which can grow to more than 40 inches, are found in many habitats, including mangroves, along beaches, in rivers, on reefs, and in seagrass beds.
As any snook fisherman will tell you, this fish is an opportunistic predator, eating just about any crustacean or fish it can get in its mouth - large snook have been known to strike live 12-inch ladyfish used as bait.
On the other side of the predation coin, common snook are eaten by dolphins, birds, including osprey, and larger fish, such as sharks.
People also eat snook, but if you don't take the skin off, the flesh tastes like soap - old timers used to call snook "soapfish."
Speaking of what this fish is called, some people pronounce "snook" to rhyme with "hook," while others pronounce it to rhyme with "spook," but, in no circumstances should you pronounce it "schnook," Yiddish for a pitifully meek person or a person easily cheated, which makes you wonder what Boris Badenov, the villainous spy on "Rocky and his Friends," was thinking when he uttered the famous advice: "Never underestimate the power of a schnook."