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The Villages
Monday, December 5, 2022

Latest Silver Springs fish study reveals troubling trend for native fish

Scientists have been studying the fish population at Silver Springs for decades.

The most recent study completed by the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute reveals a troubling trend. Blue tilapia, an exotic fish, has exploded at Silver Springs over the last two years to 88 percent of the total fish population. “This is a troubling trend because blue tilapia compete with native mullet and gizzard shad for food and bass and sunfish for nesting areas. They disrupt the aquatic habitat,” said Dr. Robert Knight, executive director of FSI. “Breaching the Rodman/Kirkpatrick Dam would bring back large, predatory fish such as the striped bass and channel catfish which would compete with tilapia and potentially help control their population,” he added.

Blue Tilapia with Mullet on the Silver River taken during the Florida Springs Institute Silver River Fish Count on July 19. Photo by Florida Springs Institute.
Blue Tilapia with Mullet on the Silver River taken during the Florida Springs Institute Silver River Fish Count on July 19. Photo by Florida Springs Institute.

The tilapia explosion is not the only changing fish story at Silver Springs. Native fish species have not fully recovered and still only comprise about 41 percent of the fish population seen prior to the completion of the Rodman/Kirkpatrick Dam in 1968. Fish populations collapsed after dam construction, decreasing by 78 percent in 1979 and by 92 percent in 2004. Largemouth bass and sunfish declined by 67 percent between the 1950s and 2004. These two species are still down by 48 percent compared to pre-dam data.

The catfish that were historically the stars of the glass-bottomed boat rides dropped by 91 percent from 1954 to recent studies. Striped mullet, which are one of the few species that eat the algae coating the once bright green eel grass in the springs, diminished by 77 percent since 1954.

Although total biomass or fish weight in the study area is now on the rise, the increase recorded this year is predominantly by non-native and invasive tilapia.

“The only way to fully restore the ecosystem at Silver Springs and bring back our native fish population is to restore the historic fish migration route and natural flow from Silver Springs to the Atlantic by breaching the Rodman/Kirkpatrick Dam near Palatka,” said Knight.

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