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Recreational Fishery Habitat Conservation

Implementation of a research plan to guide decisions on place-based recreational fishery conservation in Charlotte Harbor, FL

In Charlotte Harbor, the essential nursery habitats of snook and tarpon are vulnerable to urban development and have no explicit habitat protections. The project team seeks to better inform county and state governments’ decisions by creating decision-making support tools that prioritize locations for restoration and protection of juvenile sportfish habitat.

Lead Investigator: Courtney Saari, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Fish and Wildlife Research Institute ( 

Natural Resource Managers: Brandon Moody, Charlotte County Government; Corey Anderson, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Project Team: Philip Stevens, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission; David Blewett, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission; JoEllen Wilson, Bonefish & Tarpon Trust; Shaun Cullinan, Charlotte County; Nicole Iadevaia, Coastal & Heartland National Estuary Partnership

Collaborator: Kali Spurgin, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission 

Federal Program Officer/Point of Contact: Frank Parker (

Award Amount: $1,287,506

Award Period: October 2023 – September 2028

Why it matters: In Charlotte Harbor, a large estuary in southwest Florida, recreational fishing contributes over $400 million to the local economy each year. The northern half of the estuary includes important nursery habitat for snook and tarpon – both of which are economically important sportfish in the region. These essential nursery habitats are vulnerable to urban development, and the tarpon and snook have no explicit habitat protections. Place-based habitat conservation is necessary to ensure sustainability of the community’s valuable natural resources.

What the team is doing: The project team will document juvenile sportfish habitat in Charlotte Harbor, create a vulnerability index to prioritize habitats for potential management and conservation actions, and develop hydrologic models of a key drainage basin to address alternative conservation policies. 

Expected outcome: The team will develop decision-support tools that prioritize locations for restoration and conservation. These tools will be shared with county land use planners to inform the management of areas habitat that should be protected. Findings on the most effective sites for habitat restoration, as well as other recommendations, will be incorporated into state restoration plans.