Gag Grouper Rules
- Two-fish recreational bag limit during open season
- Closed season in February and March
- 22-inch minimum size limit for recreational, 24-inch for commercial
- Annual catch quota: 1.5 million pounds for commercial sector, 2.2 million pounds for recreational sector
2011 EMERGENCY RULES
- Commercial quota limited to 430,000 pounds for accidental bycatch only
- Recreational fishing allowed only from Sept. 16 to Nov. 15
Starting in 2012
- Recreational fishing season open July 1 to Oct. 31
- Commercial quota limited to 567,000 pounds
- Two-fish daily recreational bag limit during open season
- 22-inch minimum size limit for commercial and recreational
Source: Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council
A grouper that’s usually getting hooked on fishing lines on its way to the dinner table got a lifeline from federal fisheries managers Friday.
The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, a panel of state and federal appointees meeting this week in Texas, approved changes aimed at restoring depleted stocks of gag grouper.
A 2009 stock assessment of gag grouper found that they were overfished and that fishermen were catching too many of them for the population to rebound quickly enough.
Neither conservation groups nor some fishermen, who often square off against each other, were completely satisfied with Friday’s moves.
“It blows my mind,” Naples charter boat captain Eric Alexander said. “They keep messing with these groupers. I’m not happy about it.”
The biggest change for recreational anglers closes federal waters of the Gulf, beyond about 10 miles offshore, to recreational gag grouper fishing from November to June.
Before emergency rules were put in place this year, recreational fishing for gag grouper was allowed all year except during the spawning season in February and March.
The new rules keep the daily limit at two fish and keep the recreational size limit at 22 inches.
Particularly troublesome for Southwest Florida is the longer closed season, which cuts into the busy winter tourist season when gag are most plentiful closer to shore, he said.
A Gulf Council advisory panel had recommended a split closed season between the southern and northern Gulf, but it was rejected.
Commercial fishermen had their annual quota for gag grouper cut from 1.5 million pounds before this year’s emergency rules to 567,000 pounds in 2012.
Fisheries managers are being too cautious and are using stock assessments that are lagging real conditions, a commercial fishing advocate said.
“I think there’s more fish out there than we’re getting credit for,” said Southern Offshore Fishing Association director Bob Spaeth, a St. Petersburg-area fishing fleet and fish house owner.
The Gulf Council did not enact a new closed area off the Florida Panhandle where gag grouper fishing would have been prohibited year-round.
That disappointed conservation advocates, who said the closed area was important to protecting grouper where they spawn in groups that make them easier to catch.
“We’ll have to see whether what they approved today is enough to put the species back on the road to recovery,” said Holly Binns, project manager for The Pew Environment Group.
Fisheries scientists studying stocks of gag grouper determined in 2009 that the fish have been in decline since 2005.
On top of normal fishing pressure, a red tide of toxic microalgae in 2005 was blamed for killing 18 percent of the gag grouper stock.
Emergency rules in place this year closed the recreational gag grouper season, reopens it from Sept. 16 to Nov. 15 and cuts the commercial gag grouper quota to 100,000 pounds.
Another grouper is faring better under a federal rebuilding plan.
The Gulf Council agreed Friday to increase the total allowable catch for red grouper this year to almost 7 million pounds and to continue increasing the catch to 7.5 million pounds by 2015.
The recreational bag limit for red grouper will increase from two fish to four fish.
Spaeth said that will be good for fishermen _ and for consumers who like to eat fresh Florida grouper.
“We could really use the fish,” he said.
Connect with Eric Staats at www.naplesnews.com/staff/eric_staats