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FWC adds protection for Gulf grouper

By Staff | Jun 24, 2009

After carefully considering testimony from several fishery organizations and conservation groups at its public meeting in Crystal River, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) decided to make its grouper rules in state waters compatible with federal regulations to help rebuild Gulf gag grouper stocks and ensure quality fishing for this important species in the future.

“It just makes sense to use the management approach that is tailored to work best for the recreational and commercial Gulf grouper fisheries,” said FWC Vice Chairwoman Kathy Barco. “Being consistent with the federal rebuilding plan for Gulf gag grouper will help achieve harvest-reduction goals for the commercial and recreational fishing sectors.”

The new FWC rules establish a Feb. 1 through March 31 closed spawning season for all recreational harvest of shallow-water groupers (gag, black, red, yellowfin, scamp, yellowmouth, rock hind and red hind) in all Gulf state waters, except in Monroe County. The intent of this rule is to limit the unintended catch and possible mortality of gag grouper by closing the recreational harvest of all similar shallow-water grouper species during the spawning season.

The new rules also decrease the daily recreational aggregate bag limit for grouper from five fish to four per person in Gulf state waters, except in Monroe County. The daily recreational bag limit for Gulf gag grouper is two fish per person within the aggregate limit, and anglers may also keep two Gulf red grouper within this limit.

In addition, the new rules reduce the commercial minimum size limit for Gulf red grouper, and for all importation and sale of red grouper, from 20 inches to 18 inches total length. This will still allow the harvest of marketable fish and significantly reduce the number of 18- to 20-inch red grouper that do not survive upon release.

Commercial Gulf grouper fishermen are also strictly regulated by reduced individual annual harvest limits and an important spawning season closure off the Big Bend coast of Florida.

The FWC’s new Gulf grouper rules take effect in August.