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December 06, 2012

Fish Regulation Changes Coming to Florida

The outcome of December's Commission meeting in Apalachicola changes regulations to black sea bass, gag grouper and gamefish designations.

Florida's Wildlife Commission Considers Saltwater Gamefish and Sportfish Designations

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) discussed creating saltwater gamefish and sportfish designations at its Dec. 5 commission meeting in Apalachicola. As important as Florida's fish species are to the Sunshine State, there are no current official saltwater gamefish or sportfish designations.

If gamefish and sportfish designations pass, it would help highlight and protect some of Florida’s premier recreational fish, says the FWC. 

Suggested parameters for gamefish would include no commercial harvest, possession or sale. Already, snook, redfish and bonefish may not be commercially taken and sold. Popular species such as seatrout, flounder, pompano, permit, and jacks are still able to be caught and sold in bulk. 

The sportfish designation would offer a higher level of protection than gamefish by making selected species catch-and-release only, including no recreational harvest as well as no commercial harvest, possession or sale.

“I think it’s an opportunity for this Commission to create a lasting legacy,” said Chairman Kenneth Wright. “I think it will send a signal to fishermen around the world that we are a world-class fishing destination.” 

The FWC decided to approve a proposed draft rule about the designation, with a final decision on this measure happening at the February meeting in Orlando.

Which fish species will be included under the gamefish or sportfish designations will not be decided at the February Commission meeting. If gamefish and sportfish designations are approved, staff will return to future meetings with suggestions for potential fish species candidates.

Public comment can be sent to Marine@MyFWC.com. Staff members are also hosting webinars on Dec. 10 and 12 to gather public comment. These meetings will be from 6 to 8 p.m. To participate in the webinar, visit: http://fwc.adobeconnect.com/mfm/

Atlantic Black Sea Bass Changes Approved

The FWC made several changes to black sea bass management in Atlantic state waters at its Dec. 5 meeting. Effective Feb. 1, 2013, the recreational bag limit from 15 to five fish per person. Black sea bass populations in the Atlantic are improving, but are undergoing overfishing, according to fishery managers. The FWC-approved changes will align state management efforts with most current federal regulations for black sea bass.

2013 Gulf Gag Grouper Recreational Season Discussed

At the same Dec. 5 meeting, the FWC unanimously drafted a 2013 Gulf of Mexico gag grouper recreational season that, if approved in February, will make most Gulf state waters consistent with the current federal season. (The exception is the four-county region along the upper Gulf Coast.)

The current proposed federal season for Gulf gag grouper is exected to start July 1 and end when the annual catch target is met. That will likely be sometime in November or early December. The federal season ending date should be finalized in spring 2013.

The Commissioners’ proposal included an April 1 through June 30 season in state waters off the counties of Taylor, Jefferson, Wakulla and Franklin. According to the proposal, the four-county region will not open during the July 1 through November/December federal season. Monroe County is excluded from the Gulf of Mexico season because it is included in the Atlantic season for gag grouper.

“In terms of effort, this four-county region had an insignificant impact to the resource but a significant impact to the economy and the culture,” said Commissioner Brian Yablonski. “We specifically picked less-populated counties and a lot of that had to do with where the fish are when the season is open. This at least gave the Big Bend area a chance to fish. Full consistency takes the Big Bend out.”