The 7-member, governor-appointed Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission made two important decisions Wednesday morning during its regularly-scheduled meeting in Havana, near Tallahassee. Both will have future impacts on recreational fishing in Florida.
The commission approved an FWC staff recommendation to continue catch and release measures currently in place for red drum (redfish) and snook from the Pasco-Hernando county line through Gordon Pass in Collier County for one year. An executive order from August 2018 prohibited harvest of snook and redfish in red tide affected waters where massive fish kills took place last summer. In September, the order was extended to cover the waters of Tampa Bay north to Pasco County, and to be in place through May 10, 2019. In February 2019, additional catch and release measures were put in place to prohibit harvest of spotted seatrout larger than 20 inches.
Wednesday, the FWC voted to continue to keep snook and redfish catch and release only through next year, re-evaluating snook prior to the March 1, 2020 spring season opener for state waters of the Gulf of Mexico. It also voted to expand the prohibition on harvest of all sizes of seatrout for one year from Pasco-Hernando county line through Gordon Pass in Collier County. The measures will be in effect until May 31, 2020.
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The FWC also decided to prohibit commercial harvest of spotted seatrout in this same area for the next year.
“We support FWCâ€™s response to address red tide impacts on our iconic southwest Florida fisheries,” said Kellie Ralston, Southeast Fisheries Policy Director for the American Sportfishing Association. “Extending and expanding catch and release requirements for an additional year will allow redfish, snook and spotted seatrout stocks to recover from the devastating bloom last year. We look forward to revisiting the status of these stocks after theyâ€™ve had this important time to rebuild.”
In another measure which addressed spotted seatrout stocks statewide, the FWC directed staff to further examine the economically important species and account for some of the issues brought up during the public comment period Wednesday. Staff had made recommendations to reduce recreational trout fishing bag limits in each of the four management zones in state waters, but will now delay that move until later in the year.
For more information about the FWC meeting go to MyFWC.com.
May 1 is the opening of the recreational fishing season for grouper and hogfish in South Atlantic waters, including those off the coast of Florida.
The following species may now be harvested in state and federal waters: hogfish; gag grouper, black grouper, red grouper, yellowmouth grouper and yellowfin grouper; scamp; red hind; rock hind; coney; and graysby.
Hogfish will remain open through Oct. 31, 2019, on the east coast of Florida as well as south and east of Cape Sable on the Gulf coast. The other species will remain open through Dec. 31, 2019, on the east coast of Florida and all state waters off Monroe County.
Unfortunately, because of an early season tropical disturbance in the Atlantic Ocean just off the Florida coast, easterly winds and rough seas will likely prevent offshore anglers from being able to successfully target grouper until Friday or Saturday, at the earliest. Grouper are typically caught on deep reefs in 90-160 feet of water. Hogfish are most commonly caught by divers who are spearfishing. They rarely take a baited hook.
The Florida record hogfish, 19 pounds, 8 ounces, was landed in 1962 by Robert Batson off Daytona Beach. The state record gag grouper was 80 pounds, 6 ounces caught off Destin by Bill Smith in 1993. The state record black grouper weighed 113 pounds, 6 ounces and was caught off the Dry Tortugas in 1990 by Donald Bone.
For more information about hogfish and grouper bag and size limits, gear restrictions and fishing seasons, including a map of the Atlantic and Gulf grouper fishing boundaries, go to MyFWC.com/MarineÂ and select â€śRecreational Regulations.â€ť