The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) voted Feb. 8 to change how gag grouper is managed in Gulf of Mexico state waters (excluding Monroe County).
The decision, which came during day two of the three-day February Commission meeting, will achieve consistency with federal management efforts while potentially providing a region-specific recreational season in four counties.
The FWC manages marine fish from the shore to nine nautical miles in the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council manages Gulf of Mexico waters farther than nine nautical miles out. The following changes will make state gag grouper management efforts the same as recent federal gag grouper management efforts in the Gulf of Mexico: setting the recreational open season from July 1 through Oct. 31 and lowering the minimum commercial size limit from 24 inches to 22 inches total length.
The Commission also authorized Chairman Kathy Barco and Executive Director Nick Wiley to issue an executive order opening gag grouper season in the state waters off Taylor, Jefferson, Wakulla and Franklin counties, including Apalachicola Bay and Indian Pass. This gag grouper recreational season, if implemented, will open harvest in state waters during April, May and June, and close harvest in those waters during the July-to-October season. These changes will better align fishing opportunity with fish availability.
“I think we have to be sensitive to the economic side and the natural resource side,” said Commissioner Charles W. Roberts III. “I don’t think there is anybody here, especially in this room, who would like to jeopardize gag grouper. This isn’t an easy decision. We have to rely on the data we have available and make good decisions.”
Gag grouper has been closed in Gulf of Mexico state waters since Nov. 16, 2011.
The FWC believes applying these management changes will allow gag grouper populations to rebuild quickly while balancing the needs of anglers.
To learn more, visit www.MyFWC.com/Commission and click on “Commission Meetings” and “Agenda.”