New proposed rules by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to designate bonefish and tarpon as catch-and-release-only species drew only a few mild objections at a public meeting Tuesday in Dania Beach.
FWC officials say the proposals are intended to discourage the harvest of tarpon and provide bonefish, which have all but disappeared from Florida Bay, with additional protection.
The new rules call for eliminating an exemption for bonefish tournaments that allows anglers to transport a fish to scales to be weighed. All bones would have to be released alive and unharmed at the site where they were caught. However, anglers would be allowed to possess them long enough to weigh, measure and photograph them at the catch site before letting them go.
For tarpon, the commission proposes to restrict harvest to one fish per person per day (with a maximum of one per vessel) only for purposes of weighing it for an IGFA or Florida state record. The current $50 tarpon tag required for possession might increase to as much as $1,000, and the number available each year would be reduced. Increasing the price of the tag would require legislative approval. As with bonefish, there would be an allowance for temporary possession without a tag in order to weigh, measure and photograph a tarpon.
A handful of anglers and guides who attended a workshop at IGFA headquarters on Tuesday said they mostly agreed with the proposals. But captain Bob Branham, a veteran flats guide in Biscayne Bay and the Keys, said he thought $1,000 for a tarpon tag would be “punitive” for guides.
“I’m all for protecting the resource,” Branham said. “But I think that might cut that part of our business altogether. A thousand dollars is way, way, way out of line.”
Jason Schratwieser, IGFA conservation director and flats fishing enthusiast, agreed.
“If you look at the number of [tarpon] world records, it’s very little,” he said. “Record fishing is really not a problem for tarpon, bonefish and permit in the state of Florida. We’re pumping a lot of money into fisheries management and it’s working.”
Carly Canion, an FWC section leader who moderated the meeting, confirmed Schratwieser’s assertion: Out of 384 tarpon tags sold in 2011-12, she said, only four were used to submit a potential state or world record. The state caps tag sales at 2,500 per year but hasn’t sold that many in recent memory.
Captain Joe Gonzalez, another veteran light-tackle guide in Biscayne Bay, said he had no problem with the changes.
“I think everything they’re doing is on the right track,” Gonzalez said. “It’s all to protect and enhance the fishery. You don’t see the numbers you used to see.”
Anglers, guides and others interested in the issue will have another chance to register their comments at a statewide webinar from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday (go to myFWC.com/Fishing and click on “saltwater,” then on “rulemaking,” then on “workshops”).
The commission is slated to discuss the draft rules April 17 in Tallahassee and, if approved, hold a final public hearing in June in Lakeland.