When state officials meet in Havana, Fla., starting Tuesday for the first fishery management meeting of 2012, it is unlikely they will change course on grouper, one of the most heavily debated species in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is expected to follow the federal government's lead and adopt the same standards in state waters being proposed for federal ones, which begin 9 miles offshore.
Federal fishery managers say gag grouper, once a mainstay of deep-water anglers on the west coast of Florida, is "overfished and undergoing overfishing" — too many are being caught and there are too few left to reproduce in sufficient numbers.
In August, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council approved a long-term rebuilding plan for gag and red grouper. The species, although different in terms of health of stocks, are managed under the same plan because they are often caught together.
But while anglers will see an increase in the red grouper bag limit (two to four), regulations for gag grouper will become more restrictive. The state already prohibits the harvest of gag grouper in state waters during February and March. The federal government, however, is expected to establish a 123-day gag grouper season of July 1-Oct. 31.
Most gag grouper are caught in federal waters except during the winter months, when they move inshore to shallow water. If Florida fishery managers fail to adopt the federal standards, then it is likely the Gulf Council would shorten its season to account for the increased catch in state waters.
The FWC's staff has recommended it follow the federal lead. But if state officials don't, the gag season will open April 1.
To learn more, go to MyFWC.com.
Fishing Rally: Recreational and commercial fishermen will head to Washington on March 21 for another rally. Two years ago, thousands gathered for the first "United We Fish" rally, designed to shed light on what they called unfair regulatory measures.
The 2012 Keep Fishermen Fishing Rally hopes to again gather thousands concerned about the increasing influence of nonprofit groups such as the Environmental Defense Fund and Pew Environmental Groups. For information, go to keepfishermenfishing.com.
Olympic update: Tampa Bay sailors racked up more wins at last month's Miami Olympic Classes Regatta on Biscayne Bay.
Clearwater's Zach Railey, 27, a silver medalist at the 2008 Olympics, finished first among 25 in the Finn. His sister Paige, 24, finished eighth among 60 in the Laser Radial.
The Raileys, who learned to sail at the Clearwater Yacht Club, will represent the United States at this summer's Olympics in England.
St. Petersburg's Mark Mendelblatt and Brian Fatih finished seventh among 29 in the Star. They also will be part of the Olympic team.
Disabled sailors Jen French and J.P. Creignou of St. Petersburg took bronze in the SKUD-18. They will be part of the U.S. contingent at this summer's Paralympics. Another disabled sailor, Paul Callahan of Port Charlotte, who is coached by former St. Petersburg Sailing Center director Dave Ellis, made the U.S. team in the Sonar.
The Miami Olympic Class Regatta is one of seven World Cup events and only one in the United States. It drew nearly 500 sailors from more than 40 countries and was widely viewed as the precursor to the Olympics.
More sailing: The Clearwater Yacht Club will host the Laser Midwinters East Regatta, Feb. 22-26. More than 200 sailors from 16 countries are expected in the Gulf of Mexico off Big Pier 60.