The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) last week proposed new rules for the recreational and commercial harvest of grouper in Gulf of Mexico state waters. The proposed rules follow up on interim measures taken earlier this year and will generally match state grouper rules with pending federal regulations.
The goal of the new rules will be to improve populations of gag grouper so that quality fishing for this important species can continue into the future.
A final public hearing on the rule proposals will take place during the next FWC public meeting in Crystal River in June.
A recent series of federal and state actions addresses overfishing of gag grouper in the Gulf by reducing fishing pressure. These actions are designed to achieve gag grouper harvest reductions of 41 to 42 percent for the commercial fishery and 26 percent for the recreational fishery through a combination of fishing season and area closures, annual harvest quota and bag limit adjustments and other measures.
The FWC's proposed new rules would establish a Feb. 1 through March 31 closed spawning season for all recreational and commercial harvest of shallow-water groupers (gag, black, red, yellowfin, scamp, yellowmouth, rock hind and red hind) in all Gulf state waters. This proposed two-month closure in Gulf state waters would extend a current one-month commercial closed season for gag, red and black grouper.
The intent of this closure to all harvest of shallow-water grouper species in Gulf state waters is to limit the unintended catch (and possible mortality) of gag grouper by closing harvest to all similar shallow-water grouper species during the spawning season.
The new rules would also decrease the daily recreational aggregate bag limit for all shallow-water groupers from five fish to four fish per person. The current daily recreational bag limit for Gulf gag grouper is two fish per person within the aggregate limit.
In addition, the proposed rules would reduce the commercial minimum size limit for Gulf red grouper, and for all importation and sale of red grouper, from 20 inches to 18 inches total length. This will significantly reduce the number of 18- to 20-inch fish that do not survive upon release.
More information regarding the proposed grouper regulation changes and recent federal and state actions is available online at MyFWC.com/docs/CommissionMeetings/2009/2009_Apr_10B_GulfRedandGagGrouper_Final_Update2B.pdf