Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) held their first meeting of 2013 last week in Orlando. During the meeting there were several approvals and proposals regarding reef fish regulations for this year.
Most importantly, the commission proposed a 44-day recreational red snapper season for Gulf of Mexico state waters, which reaches nine nautical miles from shore.
This season would start June 1 and end July 14. The proposed season is inconsistent with the current proposed federal season, which is expected to be about 27 days, but could be adjusted once state seasons in all Gulf state waters are finalized.
While the federal limit for how many pounds of red snapper can be caught has increased, the season length has gotten shorter because of more fishing effort and larger fish, according to federal fishery managers.
After listening to public comment, the FWC chose to create its own season based on reports that the upcoming federal stock assessment likely would show red snapper populations are doing better than previously thought and reports from anglers that the fishery is improving and preference is to have a longer season.
The FWC will make a final decision on this season during its April meeting in Tallahassee.
The commission also set the 2013 recreational gag grouper season for Gulf of Mexico state waters. For most of state waters it is slated to start July 1 and end Dec. 3.
State waters off the coast of Taylor, Jefferson, Wakulla and Franklin counties, including waters of the Steinhatchee River, Apalachicola Bay and Indian Pass, will have a gag grouper open season of April 1 through June 30. This four-county region will not be open during the July 1 through Dec. 3 season.
The selected seasons will offer Florida anglers the most number of gag grouper fishing days while still contributing to the current rebuilding plan. The federal season has not been finalized but is expected to start July 1 and end sometime in late November or early December.
Also approved were two changes on how gray triggerfish are managed in Gulf of Mexico state waters in an effort to help rebuild this over fished species.
More than 60 percent of gray triggerfish caught in the Gulf of Mexico come from state and federal waters off Florida, which makes the state's management of the species integral to the success of the federal rebuilding plan.
These changes will make state regulations consistent with pending federal regulations and will include implementing a June 1 through July 31 closed recreational season and a two-fish daily recreational bag limit.
By Chris Phillips | News Journal correspondent
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