Some changes in 2012 marine regulations

The year 2012 brings several changes for marine anglers who fish Florida waters.

In November, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) met in Key Largo and voted to increase both recreational and commercial fishing opportunities for spotted sea trout. The expanded opportunities come as a result of successful sea trout management.

For recreational anglers, the FWC voted to eliminate the February closed season in North Florida and the November-December closure in South Florida. While the bag limit remains the same in the panhandle and south Florida, the sea trout bag limit went from five to six fish in Northeast Florida. The new rules take effect Feb. 1.

There were several changes for the commercial season but chief among them were an increase in the commercial fishing season, and increasing the vessel limit to 150 fish when two commercial licensed anglers are onboard.

Under previous rules, commercial sea trout anglers accounted for approximately 2 percent of the annual catch. FWC staff anticipates the commercial catch may increase to 3 percent under the new rules.

The Commission also approved changes for red drum. Often called redfish by anglers, FWC voted to create three red drum management zones and increase the daily bag limit from one to two fish in the northwest and northeast zones.

Other changes included creating a statewide vessel limit of eight red drum, and limiting the maximum a person can transport on land to six fish.

Red drum have benefitted from management and regulation changes that occurred in the early 1990s, when the species was declared overfished. A 2009-10 stock assessment showed that red drum escapement rates have been consistently above the FWC’s 40-percent management goal in Northeast and Northwest Florida.

Changes affecting red drum also take effect Feb. 1.

At the same meeting, the FWC put in place rules to protect tiger sharks and smooth, scalloped and great hammerhead sharks by prohibiting both recreational and commercial harvest in state waters.

Fisheries scientists are concerned the top-line predator fish are vulnerable to fishing pressure. The shark regulation changes took effect Jan. 1 and will include an educational campaign by FWC focusing on fishing and handling techniques that should increase the survival rate of sharks caught and released.

Commissioners also voted to make changes to red and gag grouper management in state waters. Changes involve ensuring that state and federal protections and bag limits are consistent.

For red grouper the bag limit in Gulf of Mexico state waters was increased from two to four fish.

Gag grouper have been deemed overfished in the Gulf by federal fishery managers. The gag grouper season is closed at present. The FWC will revisit state gag grouper management efforts at the February meeting in Tallahassee.

To learn more about marine recreational fishing, go to MyFWC.com/Fishing and click on “Saltwater Fishing.”

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