It's not etched in stone yet, but federal regulators went a long way Thursday toward setting new rules for grouper fishing that would begin in January.
Recreational anglers will be able to land four grouper a day, but no more than two gag and two red, the two most common species. All recreational grouper fishing would shut down between Feb. 1 and March 31.
Those are the "preferred alternatives" voted Thursday by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council. For bureaucratic reasons, the National Marine Fisheries Commission could still tweak the rules, but major changes are unlikely.
The council also set a commercial gag quota for the first time. The fleet could land 1.32-million pounds in 2009, rising slightly in later years. That is a bit more gag than were landed in 2007, but well below the average catch for the last five years. If the fleet exceeds the quota, regulators will shut down all commercial grouper fishing for the rest of the year.