FWC meeting next week potentially features rule changes for sharks, redfish …

— The agenda for next week’s Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission meeting reminds one of that famous Clint Eastwood spaghetti western “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”

Proposed regulation changes to some of Florida’s most famous marine fisheries have generated a buzz among recreational/commercial anglers and environmentalists, whose livelihoods may be significantly impacted.

Many of the alterations will receive praise from all sides, but others may renew the stark division between angling interests. One suggested change, however, is drawing widespread criticism from recreational anglers who remember the days, and the damage done, when drift nets were legal in state waters.

The FWC meeting next week in Key Largo is open to the public and will serve as a final opportunity for public comment before the 7-member Governor-appointed commission votes.


In scores of cases, the FWC has ridden to the rescue of some of Florida’s ecologically important species of wildlife and finfish. The commission is largely to thank for helping alligators, bald eagles, manatees and as was announced just this week, black bears. Next week, the topic of discussion will be two of the marine arena’s most fearsome predators — hammerhead and tiger sharks. While neither of these two sharks have made it onto any of the nation’s most alarming watch lists for threatened wildlife, the state is taking a proactive approach in defending the senseless killing of these ecologically sensitive creatures. Hammerheads and tigers are popular sport catches from beaches or near reefs, but releasing them alive is easy to do. They have nearly zero food value, too.

Quotable: “In the history of earth, no other animal has been removed at such a prolific rate.” Jim Abernethy, shark advocate and shark encounter dive tour operator from West Palm Beach

Our take: The FWC should pass this measure to add these species of sharks to its list of Prohibited Species that already includes 23 other sharks.


Paraphrasing the parable: ‘Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he’ll want to catch more than he can eat in a day.’ Redfish are thriving in great numbers through the northern regions of the state. According to staff scientists with the Florida Wildlife Research Institute, the research branch of the FWC, redfish or red drum are exceeding management goals set by the commission many years ago. Proposed is to divide the state into three regions for redfish management — northwest, northeast and south. A bag limit increase from one redfish per person per day statewide to two in the two northern regions has also been proposed. The reason for the increase is to give the taxpayer back a fish since it has been determined it won’t hurt the fishery. Sounds noble, but recently added rules to allow for statewide transport of six per person is sketchy. Sale will still be prohibited, but the door is opening for it — slowly.

Quotable: “Florida’s redfish management program has been a huge success under the current set of regulations. It does not need any changes.” Coastal Conservation Association of Florida

Our take: The Commission should use caution when making choices based on healthy fisheries. Giving the taxpayer in half the state one more fish seems reasonable, especially when neighboring states Georgia (5), Alabama (3), Mississippi (3) and Louisiana (5) allow for many more. Transport and possession limits on land need to be carefully examined, and in our opinion rejected.


It’s rare that an idea comes along in fisheries management that is as poorly conceived as federal rules set in recent years for red snapper and snowy grouper. But here it is in the state’s proposed regulation changes for spotted seatrout. One of the state’s most popular, widespread and important sport fish has greatly benefited from protection it received when 72 percent of state voters elected to remove drift gill nets from state waters in 1994 by virtue of the Net Ban Amendment. The much debated and publicized issue centered on a gear restriction, not on killing off a culture’s livelihood. Gill nets deployed in a drift application can kill all species indiscriminately. Proposed are regulation changes for both recreational anglers and commercial fishermen. Recreational anglers will stand to have 2-month long seasons closed to harvest removed. Commercial fishermen stand to receive two additional months added to their three allowable months for harvest. These two rules seem harmless given the FWRI’s trout stock assessment information. Questionable are trip limit increases, allowing possession of saleable trout year-round, something called a “bycatch limit” and the addition of net gear for harvest to what has been a hook-and-line only fishery.

Quotable: “The idea of allowing seine nets to harvest inshore fish is not a step forward.” Rick Roberts, Snook and Gamefish Foundation

Our take: In the case of spotted seatrout, this is too sensitive a fishery to changes in fishing methods to risk by dramatically throwing open the doors for more harvest. We oppose removing the closed seasons for recreational harvest and all the commercial changes except increasing the harvest season by two months.

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