Fishing is big business in Florida, contributing several billion dollars each year to the state’s economy. Fishing guides are an important part of that industry, providing locals and tourists with authentic Florida fishing experiences.
Anglers who want to make their hobby more sustainable can now easily identify guides who know how to reduce the environmental impact of this popular recreational activity.
The Florida Friendly Fishing Guide certification is granted to guides who have completed a course about sustainable boating and fishing techniques, said Savanna Barry, a UF/IFAS Extension Florida Sea Grant regional specialized agent and lead for the FFFG program.
It is the first statewide certification of its kind in Florida, preceded by a similar program only available in the Florida Keys.
Guides are certified through a training program developed by the UF/IFAS Extension Florida Sea Grant program in partnership with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
“Our goal is to empower fishing guides and their clients to reduce the environmental footprint of fishing,” Barry said. “One environmental impact of fishing is what we call discard mortality — this is when a fish that’s been caught and released doesn’t survive. The training shows guides safe handling techniques that reduce discard mortality. We also cover sustainable waste management, basic fisheries management and more.”
The course is completely online, making it accessible to fishing guides statewide. A $130 fee includes a welcome package for certified guides and supports the upkeep and evaluation of the program.
“We collected a lot of input from fishing guides around Florida when developing this program, so the training covers the concerns they and their clients have about the sustainability of fishing,” Barry said.
Brian Stauffer, who runs Fishhead Kayak Charters on Florida’s Nature Coast, was one of the first in the state to complete the certification.
“I’m eco-minded, and I want to protect what we have here,” Stauffer said. “I have a lot of clients who want to get a photo with their catch and then release it. But you have to know how to handle the fish or they won’t survive when you put them back in the water. That’s one reason I wanted to do this training.”
Stauffer is planning to include the certification badge on his company’s website, Facebook page and business cards. “It’s an added value to clients,” he said.
As more guides are certified, their business and contact information will be posted on the Florida Friendly Fishing Guide Certification page.