FWC OKs red snapper season

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, defying its federal counterpart, has approved a 44-day recreational red snapper harvest season in Gulf of Mexico state waters out to nine miles from shore, beginning June 1 and ending July 14. NOAA Fisheries is recommending a 21-day season for federal waters past nine miles.

The FWC normally votes to maintain consistency between federal and state waters. But at a meeting last week in Havana, near Tallahassee, commissioners went the other way, citing reports that an upcoming federal stock assessment likely would show red snapper are doing better than previously believed, and based on accounts of anglers who say the fishery is improving. Anglers in Florida and other Gulf states are frustrated at federal regulations increasing the number of pounds that can be caught while shortening the season.

Federal fisheries managers say the rules are needed because of increased fishing effort and the need to rebuild the stock of long-lived breeding red snapper. Meanwhile, Gov. Rick Scott has joined his counterparts in Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi in calling on Congress to give management control over red snapper to the states.

In a letter to congressional leaders, the governors wrote that federal fisheries management is “irretrievably broken” with “no hint of willingness from NOAA Fisheries to deviate from this present, unsatisfactory course.”


•  In other news at last week’s meeting, the FWC gave preliminary approval to designating tarpon and bonefish as catch-and-release-only species. The draft rule, expected to gain final approval in June, would prohibit all harvest of tarpon unless in pursuit of an IGFA world record and with possession of a $50 tag.

The measure also would discontinue an exemption for bonefish tournaments allowing anglers to transport fish to weigh scales.

In another discussion, commissioners directed staff to draft a proposal for consideration in June addressing the long-running jig/live bait controversy in the Boca Grande Pass tarpon fishery.

And commissioners moved toward a permanent rule waiving the commercial and recreational bag limit and requirement for a recreational fishing license for divers spearing lionfish. The measure is expected to be finalized in June.

Lionfish are an invasive species from the Indo-Pacific that have become troublesome in Florida waters over the past five years.

•  Eric Roberts’ multihull Dream On was first to cross the finish line in Saturday’s Miami-Key Largo Race organized by Miami Yacht Club. The custom-built RC 30 completed the 40-mile course in 4:43:04. The first monohull to finish was David Helmick’s Stoutlee in 6:29:55. For displacement hulls, the leader was Jim Bill’s Main Squeeze in 6:44:10. A fleet of 96 boats competed in 17 classes. Winners will receive their awards next Saturday at Miami Yacht Club.

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