September 15, 2008

Species Gone in a Snap? Major Limits on Fishing Will Be Discussed in Jacksonville


The coming week will be one of big meetings, big issues and potentially big trouble for anglers from North Carolina down to the Florida Keys.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will discuss some important issues when it meets Wednesday through Friday in Jacksonville. And the South Atlantic Fisheries Council will meet Monday through Friday in Charleston, S.C.

In the case of the FWC, even though the gathering is here, it's still 24 hours of meetings.

While all the agenda items are potentially important to some sector of the sporting population, the following are the high points (or low, depending on your point of view). The full agenda, along with background information, is posted on All of the meetings begin at 8:30 a.m. at the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront Hotel on 225 E. Coastline Drive.


The opening day includes a lot of housekeeping and smaller rules changes. The big news locally will be the opening of the New Lake Monroe Wildlife Management Area, which will offer seasons that include archery, muzzle-loading and general gun, spring turkey, migratory bird, fishing and frogging. The new area also would allow dog hunting during small game and migratory bird season.


This is the big day. The FWC will review new federal regulations and management proposals.

What might or might not be coincidental is that, while the FWC is discussing these proposals, the South Atlantic Marine Fisheries Council will be voting on the same proposals in Charleston.

Here's what these proposals include.

The most controversial could be to close snapper fishing on the Southeast coast of the United States. The SAFMC has the power to make emergency rules by interim action. These can be put in place for 180 days and extended to a full year later.

This action most likely will shut down all waters from North Carolina to the Florida Keys to snapper fishing. This essentially gives the SAFMC another year to pass closures through a normal amendment process, while the snapper fishery remains closed.

The numbers generated by the SAFMC's Southeast Data, Assessment and Review indicate that an 87 percent reduction in snapper catches are needed to rebuild stocks.

What's not being said is what one biologist told me: That it could take a total closure of snapper fishing for as long as 50 years for the proposed outcomes to be reached.

Local anglers are adamant that snapper numbers are as good as they've been in decades - or better.

The FWC also will look at another SAFMC proposal that, again, could be passed before the FWC begins to discuss it this week.

This is Amendment 16. The highlight of this would be a four- month closure of shallow-water grouper in Atlantic waters from January through April. The target fish is gag grouper.

The SAFMC's preferred alternative will be to group other species in the closure including black, red, red hind, rock hind, smallmouth, tiger, graysby, coney and scamp grouper.

It also will reduce the five-fish aggregate bag limit in Atlantic waters to three fish during open season - with only one gag or black grouper allowed. The amendment also will prohibit charter boats from possessing any grouper.

Amendment 16 also will reduce the bag limit of vermillion snapper - known locally as beeliners or redeyes - from 10 fish per person to four. The law also would close all vermillion snapper fishing in our waters for eight months annually, from October to May.

Some of these rules already are in place in the Gulf, which is governed by The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council. And just months after passing sweeping restrictions there, more are on the way.

The FWC also will discuss Amendment 30A, which increases size limits for amberjack (from 28 to 30 inches fork length) and gray triggerfish (from 12 to 14 inches fork length).


The final day of meetings will focus on legislative proposals for 2009.

The most controversial of these will be repealing Florida's shoreline exemption. Currently, anglers fishing from shore or a structure fixed to land aren't required to hold a saltwater license.

The FWC says 71 percent of these anglers don't have a saltwater license. The FWC figures that as many as 338,000 would be required to buy licenses under the new law.

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