The dolphinfish have been a staple of Florida saltwater fishing for generations, which makes the low mahi population in Florida so concerning. From local fishermen to charter boat captains, the mahi is a seafood favorite and has historically been caught in abundance with tourists and fishermen alike coming from across the nation to partake in the great battle of the dolphin.
Now, seemingly at risk of disappearing, many native, professional anglers are questioning the current fishing methods (among other things) as being the cause of the low mahi's depleting numbers.
What was the mahi population in Florida like before?
The recreational bag limit for dolphin is 10 fish per person for a max of 60 fish per vessel, per day, and to be legal for harvest the fish must measure 20" to the fork of the tail. With 100's of private charters available on every coast in Florida, there are conceivably 10,000's of mature dolphin caught every season just off of the Florida coast from recreational fishing alone. There have now been many charter captains themselves that have spoken out to decrease this limit to 40 fish, a 1/3 decrease in recreational bag limits.
Despite the "potential" for overfishing, the recent years have been good to fishermen and most offshore runs have resulted in above satisfactory results. Only as recently as 2020 have there been consistent reports of there being very-little-to-no dolphin being caught.
Fishing off the Florida Coast now
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that the population for the Atlantic Mahi Mahi are above target levels. Specifically, the NOAA sites that "Scientists assume populations are abundant because they are highly productive and widely distributed throughout tropical/subtropical oceans." It only takes about a year for dolphin to mature into the "gaffer" fish that are eligible to be caught and kept.
Most notably, in the 2021 season, most local charters and resident fishermen have reported there being quite a hefty supply of mature dolphin again. So, the question remains, why was there such a low mahi population in Florida in 2020?
Why the shortage?
The answer to the low mahi population in Florida (for now) is: nobody knows. There has been a lot of speculation from locals about why the levels of dolphin were so low in the 2020 season, but as to a legitimate scientific reason, nothing has yet to be proven. There were reports of commercial longliners targeting mahi as far back as 2014, catching 30,000-40,000 pounds per trip but this wouldn't explain why 2020 was the year we saw the fish's depleted numbers.
Later this year, Flogrown will be hosting a fishing tournament with proceeds going to the Coastal Conservation Association to fund research into figuring out the exact reason for the dolphin's disappearance in 2020. No matter what the reason is, all fishermen will agree that we need to do whatever we can to preserve the population levels and ensure the fishing capabilities of this prized fish for years to come.