Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Outdoors

Grouper, snapper regulations create confusion

After more than a quarter century covering fisheries management, you would think I could remember bag and size limits of the most popular species off the top of my head. Wrong.

The regulations have changed so many times in recent decades, especially when it comes to reef fish, that I have to go to the source every time I write about the subject, and even then, I'm not always sure I have it right.

Take gag grouper for example. At its Feb. 10 meeting near Tallahassee, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission approved changes to the gag and black grouper minimum size limit and the gag grouper recreational season in Gulf state waters.

Why do they lump gag and black grouper together? The simple answer is most anglers cannot tell the two species apart. Even more confusing, many fishermen refer to gag grouper, a species found in the waters of Tampa Bay, as "black" grouper, even though true black grouper inhabit the deeper, offshore waters.

But putting that fact aside, the new rules would raise the minimum size limit for gag and black grouper to 24 inches in the state waters of the Gulf of Mexico, which extend to 9 miles offshore.

The new rules also set a June 1 through Dec. 31 recreational season for gag grouper in all state waters of the Gulf, except for residents of Franklin, Wakulla, Taylor and Jefferson counties, which have their own season of April 1 through June 30. And if you live in Monroe County, disregard the previous information — you follow the Atlantic state season. The new rules go into effect before June 1 recreational season.

Before these changes, the Gulf gag grouper season was July 1 through Dec. 2 in federal waters and July 1 through Dec. 3 in most state waters. According to state officials, opening the gag season in June will help reduce the number of gag grouper caught and discarded during the recreational red snapper season.

State officials also adopted a draft rule to change the upcoming state red snapper season in the Gulf of Mexico. Under the new rules, anglers would be able to fish for snapper on Saturdays and Sundays starting May 7.

But on May 28, the season would open continuously through July 10. But then, the season would only be open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in September and October and on Labor Day. This would provide for a 78-day season in Gulf state waters.

But none of this matters if you live in the Tampa Bay area, because local anglers have to travel far offshore, at least 20 or 30 miles into federal waters, to catch red snapper.

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, the organization that manages red snappere in federal waters, met in Orange Beach, Ala., in late January to discuss numerous issues, including the regional management for recreational red snapper. But after reviewing the proposed rule and hearing from the public, the council postponed further discussion until other options could be evaluated.

Red snapper management has been a constant source of consternation for offshore anglers in recent years. Many question government statistics. But that may soon change. The FWC started a new Gulf Reef Fish Survey. This is a mandatory program and all offshore anglers are required to participate.

Information gathered will be used to better manage gag and red snapper stocks. The process is easy and there is no cost. If you fish for red snapper, gag grouper, greater amberjack, lesser amberjack, banded rudderfish, almaco jack, red grouper, black grouper, vermilion snapper and gray triggerfish, you need to sign up.

You can sign up at local tackle shops and tax collector offices or by calling toll-free 1-888-FISH-FLORIDA (347-4356). When you purchase or renew a fishing license, make sure you let them know that you are a "Gulf Reef Fish Angler" so you can be marked as such.

You can also register online at gooutdoorsflorida.com.

Comments

Captainís Corner: Warming waters, better visibility are good signs

Scuba and freediving spearfishermen and women have enjoyed great underwater visibility over the past week. Some boaters going offshore can make out the bottom structure from the gunnel of the boat. Best depths for visibility have been in 30 to 40 fee...
Published: 02/18/18
Updated: 02/19/18

Captainís Corner: Flats coming to life in north Pinellas County

The flats are really coming to life in north Pinellas County. Our main focus this time of year is spotted sea trout, though redfish are cooperating and schooling a bit. Snook are also responding to the warm weather, occasionally eating on the falling...
Published: 02/18/18

Captainís Corner: Bait a challenge, but effort will pay off

Bait has made its way into the bay and is on nearly every marker. The problem: Bait is moving and showing up at different times daily. The time spent to get bait will pay off. Fish have been blasting pilchards. Snook and large trout have been communi...
Published: 02/16/18
Updated: 02/17/18

Captainís Corner: Springtime fishing patterns moving in

The first half of February has been hit or miss for inshore fishing. The consistent cold fronts and warmups seem to have the fish confused. The week ahead should be pretty good. The best bite has been midmorning into the afternoon. With temperatures ...
Published: 02/14/18
Updated: 02/15/18

Captainís Corner: Get an early start when chasing redfish

Redfish schools have started to invade the flats around Pinellas Point. On low tide in the morning, I look for a school on an outer sandbar. These fish are staged on the edge waiting for the tide to come in. Once the water level rises, the fish will ...
Published: 02/13/18

Captainís Corner: Baitfish in the shallows improves fly fishing

Seeing large groups of pelicans diving and catching baitfish in warmer, shallow water is a sure sign spring conditions are approaching. The appearance of quality baitfish will spark a feeding frenzy that should steadily improve flats fishing for fly ...
Published: 02/14/18
Updated: 02/16/18

Captainís Corner: Action picking up as temperature rises

The wind finally stopped blowing so hard that we couldnít go offshore. Water temperatures were still in the low 50s offshore at the beginning of the week, and this affected fish behavior. Because the water was calm, we ventured out to the 80- to 90-f...
Published: 02/11/18
Updated: 02/12/18

Captainís Corner: Topwater plugs a great option as warming trend continues

Warm weather for the past week has led to an increase in feeding activity for inshore fish species. Speckled trout have been venturing out of deep holes and channels and back into shallow water to feed. This has presented a great opportunity to fish ...
Published: 02/10/18
Updated: 02/11/18

Captainís Corner: Sardines make a great bait

Bait has made its way into the bay and the fish have been eating sardines with violent strikes. Look deep for bait, most of it has been in 20-plus feet of water. A little knowledge of how to read a bottom machine will help you secure the prized sardi...
Published: 02/08/18
Updated: 02/10/18

Captainís Corner: Fishing conditions have started to improve

The waters are still a bit cooler than the kind a bunch of fish like to aggressively chew in. Fishing conditions, however, have slowly but surely begun to improve. On a recon mission Tuesday, I visited both Sunshine Skyway bridge fishing piers and th...
Published: 02/08/18