FWC makes changes to flounder regs, closes oyster harvest and shortens stone crab season
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission met virtually Wednesday and Thursday to discuss potential rule changes for several of Florida's most popular fishing targets for recreational and commercial fishers.
For the full July 22-23 agenda, including links to background reports, go to MyFWC.com/About and click on “The Commission” and “Commission Meetings.”
The FWC approved draft changes to the management of Florida’s flounder fishery. These changes will be brought back to the commission in October for final consideration.
A stock status suggests that the flounder fishery statewide has been in a general decline in recent years. It is likely overfished and undergoing overfishing on the Atlantic coast of Florida. Other states have also reported declines in flounder populations and have been making their own regulation changes.
FWC has been working with stakeholders to gather input on this fishery through workshops and online communication.
Draft rule changes include:
- Increase minimum size limit from 12 inches to 14 inches total length (recreational and commercial).
- Reduce recreational bag limit from 10 to five fish per person.
- Establish a November closure (recreational).
- Establish a commercial trip and vessel limit of 150 flounder when using allowable gear for all months outside of November.
- Establish a November commercial trip and vessel limit of 50 pounds when using allowable gear.
- Extend ALL FWC flounder regulations into federal waters.
The commission also directed staff to continue working with the industry on flounder bycatch in federal waters.
The FWC voted to approve draft regulations to suspend all harvest of wild oysters from Apalachicola Bay through Dec. 31, 2025. The regulations will come up for a final approval at the FWC meeting in October.
The suspension of harvest is to enable the oysters to replenish. Years of drought in Georgia and overfishing led to a 90% collapse of the commercial oyster harvest since 2013. The rule could be rescinded earlier if the yield of wild oysters surpasses 300 bags per acre.
The proposed rules would not apply to oyster aquaculture operations.
“Apalachicola is a gem of a place and it is one that has been decimated,” said Commissioner Rodney Barreto. “I feel for all the fishermen and businesses there. We will continue to be emotionally and scientifically available to this community throughout this process."
Florida’s stone crab fishery has experienced a long-term decline in harvest and is likely undergoing overfishing. FWC staff worked with stakeholders on these changes that are intended to increase the stone crab population and build resiliency in the fishery.
Approved changes go into effect Oct. 1, 2020, and include:
- Moving the season end date from May 15 to May 1, closed on May 2.
- Requiring a 2 3/16-inch escape ring in all plastic and wood stone crab traps before the start of the 2023-24 season.
- Increasing the minimum claw size limit by 1/8 inches from 2¾ inches to 2⅞ inches
- Limiting possession of whole stone crabs on the water to two checker boxes, each up to 3-by-2-by-2 feet OR a total volume of 24 cubic feet. Checker boxes are used to hold crabs onboard a vessel before they are measured and legal-sized claws are removed.
Learn more about stone crab regulations at MyFWC.com/Marine.
Bluefish from Maine through the Atlantic coast of Florida make up a single population. A 2019 federal stock assessment found that this Atlantic population of bluefish is overfished. Because of the assessment results, federal fishery managers adopted more restrictive recreational bag limits in federal waters, and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is requesting states implement similar regulations.
Changes approved by FWC include:
- Reducing the recreational daily bag limit from 10 to three fish per person along the Atlantic coast from Nassau through Miami-Dade counties.
- Clarifying that FWC regulations for bluefish do not extend into federal waters of the Atlantic.
- The effective date for these changes is to be determined.
Commissioners unanimously approved staff recommendations to create new rules to address the importation, breeding and possession of high-risk reptiles such as pythons, tegu lizards and iguanas.
The FWC will host online stakeholder workshops to present proposed rule changes and collect public and industry comment on this topic. Staff will use these comments to help improve the final rule language, which will be brought before the commission at a future meeting.
The proposed rule changes to chapter 68-5, F.A.C., specifically address pythons, tegus, green iguanas and other high-risk nonnative snakes and lizards.
FWC rulemaking will include reporting requirements for permittees, biosecurity requirements to limit escape of these high-risk species, and possible additional language to clarify limited exceptions for possession of green iguanas and tegus for commercial use or as pets.
More than 500 nonnative species have been reported in Florida. An estimated 80% have been introduced via the live animal trade with 150 established in Florida, meaning they are reproducing in the wild. Details on upcoming public and stakeholder meetings on this topic are still to be determined. For more information go to MyFWC.com/Nonnatives.
Ed Killer is TCPalm's outdoors writer. Become a valued customer by subscribing to TCPalm. To interact with Ed, friend him on Facebook at Ed Killer, follow him on Twitter @tcpalmekiller or email him at email@example.com.