Keys anglers oppose proposed hogfish changes

A suggestion to raise the minimum size for legally taking hogfish by 6 inches goes too far, anglers told federal fishery managers Monday in Key Largo.

“Going from 12 inches to 18 inches is a huge jump,” said Tavernier resident Gail Feddern, a spearfisherwoman.

“I’m hard pressed to find 12-inch hogfish,” Feddern told South Atlantic Fishery Management Council members. “At 18 inches, I wouldn’t be able to get any at all.”

Hogfish was a prime topic at the three-hour Monday session, designed to take comments on a variety of fishery issues.

An advisory panel to the South Atlantic Council, which regulates fishing in federal ocean waters from Key West through North Carolina, previously endorsed the larger size limit. However, based on public comments, the council could decide not to pursue any new regulations on the species.

Keys fishermen told the council representatives Monday that Keys waters cannot be compared to North Carolina.

“Things really are different between North Carolina and South Florida,” said Doug Gregory, the Monroe County Cooperative Extension Service’s marine agent who commented as a recreational fisherman. “Everything is bigger up there.”

“That’s a crazy idea,” Conch Key commercial fisherman Gary Nichols said of an 18-inch limit for hogfish. “We don’t see that [18-inch] fish here…. Even when I went out as a kid, we didn’t see those.”

“The consuming public loves that fish,” Nichols said. “At 18 inches, you’ll take hogfish off every menu here.”
Several speakers said no major changes should be made to the hogfish rules until marine biologists conduct a thorough population study.

“That’s certainly something we’ll have to take into consideration,” said South Atlantic Council Vice Chairman Ben Hartig, a Hobe Sound commercial fisherman. Hartig was joined in Key Largo by John Jolley, a council member from Boynton Beach, and agency staffers.

In another Keys-related topic at the South Atlantic session, a proposal to enact a no-take area at Snapper Ledge, a reef spot off Tavernier, drew generally favorable comments, with some reservations.

Key Largo underwater photographer Stephen Frink, who launched the Snapper Ledge campaign in 2008, said in written comments, “Issues such as deteriorating water quality and the lionfish invasion are now stressing our local coral reefs to the point that those with unique geologic attributes, such as Snapper Ledge, now require greater protection in a more accelerated and immediate timeframe.”

Tim Grollimund, also an underwater photographer, said his analysis of divers’ fish counts at Snapper Ledge the past decade show “an overall downward trend in several species, notably rock beauties, queen angels, black and Nassau groupers, goatfish and grunts.”

Key Largo commercial fisherman Ernie Piton said his industry has not been consulted on Snapper Ledge. “This needs to be talked about some more,” Piton said. “That area is a good spot for mangrove snapper at night in the summer.”

“I’ve commercially fished here for 30 years and never even knew there was a spot called Snapper Ledge,” said Walter Rentz of Key Largo.

Comments on issues being considered by the South Atlantic Council still can be submitted in writing. Go to www.safmc.net.

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