Peace River Fish Community Assessment
   Kevin Kemp, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Comission

Abstract: One of few remaining free-flowing and un-channelized rivers in the state, the Peace River supports a wide diversity of aquatic, estuarine, marine, terrestrial, and avian species. However, changes that have taken place during the past 15 years threaten the health of the Peace River. For example, watershed development including extensive phosphate mining has altered natural hydrology. Current and future use of the river to meet growing water-use demands will result in increasing withdrawals. Extensive defoliation of the watershed and a severe low dissolved oxygen event occurred during the active hurricane season of 2004, which included a direct landfall by Category 4 Hurricane Charley. Preliminary fish sampling indicated that the 2004 hurricanes decimated freshwater fish communities. Exotic armored catfishes have become established; potentially changing the interactions among the recovering native species. Faced with many significant anthropogenic and stochastic impacts, the FWC has a responsibility to the resource and stakeholders to evaluate the status of the fish community.The goal of this project is to combine expertise and sampling logistics among marine and freshwater components of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the fish communities throughout the entire course of the Peace River. To meet this goal, the specific objectives are to 1) conduct electrofishing surveys in the freshwater portions of the Peace River and two of its major tributaries (Charlie and Horse creeks) and compare these results to data collected before 1992; 2) expand fisheries-independent seining presently operating in Charlotte Harbor to include the saline portions of the Peace River; and 3) use diet information from both freshwater and marine apex predators as a tool for filling sampling gaps in traditional fishing gear. This three year project will provide fish community data to evaluate abiotic and biotic influences in Peace River. Data will be compared to previous work to evaluate changes over the past 15 years. This study will also provide assessments of fish abundance under various water level conditions, habitat requirements, evaluations of forage utilization by apex predators, documentation of the extent and possible impacts of non-native fish species, and evaluation of fish community status in major tributaries. In a collaborative effort with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, the fisheries-independent seining will be expanded to include a greater portion of the Peace River, and the seasonal distribution and food habits of freshwater and marine apex predators will be evaluated. These data can be used to develop a long-term monitoring strategy to assess the impact of various management actions, determine relative ecosystem health and delineate species-habitat linkages.

Award Matching Funds Total
$148,975.00 $148,975.00 $297,950.00

Year Funded Starting Date Ending Date
2006 6/1/2007 6/30/2011

Location: Charlotte, DeSoto, Hardee and Polk Counties