New lobster, barracuda rules

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on Thursday said no to the notion of allowing commercial divers to use artificial habitats such as refrigerators and culvert pipes to harvest lobsters.

Meeting in Key Largo, commissioners also directed staff to draft a rule for consideration in February to maintain a freeze on issuing new commercial dive permits that was set to expire in July while allowing the transfer of existing permits. And they agreed to hold a workshop on the burgeoning bully net fishery for lobsters in the Keys.

The preliminary “yes” vote was a victory for commercial trappers who don’t want to see divers and bully netters harvesting more than their historically small share of the Keys’ $20million a year lobster fishery. And waterfront homeowners, such as Walter Revell of Islamorada, also want the bully net fishery — where harvesters ply the flats at night with bright lights and long-handled nets — tamped down.

Revell told commissioners bully netters disturb his neighbors’ tranquility and pose a safety hazard.

“We are being terrorized. It is chaotic,” Revell said. “It is our property that is being threatened. We need help.”

The bully net workshop would address issues such as bag limits, harvest hours and gear limitations.

In other action, commissioners directed staff to conduct a workshop in the Keys in response to residents’ complaints that barracuda — a toothy reef fish — are becoming scarce in local waters.

Currently, Florida has no regulations specific to barracuda. There are no limits on commercial catches and recreational anglers may take 100 pounds, or two per day, whichever is greater. Many recreational anglers and charter boats practice catch-and-release while others keep barracuda to use as bait for other species.

Commercial hook-and-line and spear fishers recently have developed a market in South Florida targeted to consumers from the Caribbean and Bahamas who enjoy barracuda. However, the largest of the species have been known to carry ciguatera, a neurotoxin that could make people ill.

FWC staffers said they’ve never performed a stock assessment on barracuda, so there’s no good estimate of population, but they have seen a spike in commercial harvest in the Keys recently.

Said commissioner Ron Bergeron of Weston: “The issue was brought to us by stakeholders and that’s who we represent. It’s worthy of a workshop.”

Lionfish crackdown

Starting Wednesday, breeding lionfish will be prohibited in Florida. The candy-striped exotics from the Indo-Pacific are blamed for crashing marine ecosystems in the Atlantic, Gulf and Caribbean.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission worked with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to develop new rules which would prohibit the harvest and possession of lionfish eggs and larvae as well as the intentional breeding of the species in captivity.

Importation of live lionfish into Florida already was banned Aug. 1. The FWC actively encourages divers and anglers to harvest lionfish and eat them whenever they can.