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Recreational anglers are about to receive reduced bag limits on trout, which they welcome, but commercial fishing data may indicate a larger problem. Ed Killer, ed.killer@tcpalm.com

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Florida is one step closer to imposing new fishing regulations for spotted seatrout catches in all state waters.

The state is considering creating a new trout management zone in the Panhandle, reducing daily bag limits, modifying the recreational slot size for harvest and re-establishing seasonal closures in some zones, among other things.

More: FWC to review trout, blackfin tuna and elephant rides

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission directed staff to incorporate suggestions made during the public comment period at a meeting Wednesday and to continue to accept public comment to update the proposal for consideration at a future meeting, possibly as soon as December in Panama City.

The specific approved draft changes include:

Creating five management zones, instead of four by:

  • Splitting the Northwest zone into two separate zones including the Western Panhandle (Escambia County through most of Gulf County, not including Indian Pass/Indian Lagoon) and the Big Bend (Franklin County, plus Indian Lagoon, through Fred Howard Park Causeway in Pinellas County).
  • Moving the boundary between the southern management zones to create the newly renamed South Florida zone (Fred Howard Park Causeway in Pinellas County near the Pasco County line through Broward County) and Central East zone (Palm Beach through Volusia counties).

Daily bag limit reductions:

  • Western Panhandle: From 5 to 3 fish
  • Big Bend: From 5 to 4 fish
  • South Florida: From 4 to 3 fish
  • Central East: From 4 to 2 fish
  • Northeast: From 6 to 5 fish

Other changes include:

  • Modifying the recreational slot size limit from 15-20 inches to 15-19 inches.
  • Allowing one seatrout over 19 inches per vessel, from 19 inches per harvester.
  • Changing the current daily commercial limits to 50 per harvester and 100 per vessel, from 75 and 150.
  • Prohibiting captain and crew from keeping a bag limit on a for-hire trip.
  • Re-establishing the February recreational closure in the Western Panhandle zone and the November-December recreational closure in the Central East zone.

More: Trout trouble: Is it time to prohibit harvest in some state waters? | Ed Killer

Commercial landings in Florida waters indicate a drop-off in catches.

Statewide, there was a 73% decline in commercial landings between 2012 and 2017. Fishing success per commercial fisherman dropped, too. In 2011, 76,252 pounds were caught during 1,540 fishing trips, or an average of 49.5 pounds per trip. By 2017, that number had fallen to 18.5 pounds per trip during 1,184 trips.

The drop-off was even starker when breaking down the catch numbers into local fisheries. In the region defined by the new regulations as Central East — Palm Beach, Martin, St Lucie, Indian River, Brevard and Volusia counties — the catch went from 54,501 pounds in 2012 to 9,727 pounds in 2017, or a catch decline of 82%.

In the Southwest Florida counties of Lee and Charlotte, the catch dropped off from 11,199 pounds in 2012 to just 417 pounds in 2018, or a 96 percent collapse.

The two-day FWC meeting will continue through Thursday in Cape Canaveral. To provide online comments about spotted seatrout draft rule changes go to MyFWC.com/SaltwaterComments.

Ed Killer is TCPalm's outdoors writer. Friend him on Facebook at Ed Killer, follow him on Twitter @tcpalmekiller or email him at ed.killer@tcpalm.com.

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