TWO MONTHS: Moratorium on recreational fishing goes into effect Feb. 1
By Kate Spinner
Published: Sunday, January 3, 2010 at 1:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 2, 2010 at 10:14 p.m.
To most anglers, few catches are more valued and tasty -- than Florida's fabled grouper. But with the grouper population declining in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, federal regulators are enacting a series of bans on recreational fishing for grouper.
For Gulf Coast anglers, the good news is that the closure in the Gulf of Mexico will last just two months, from Feb. 1 through March 31, compared with a four-month ban in the Atlantic that began Friday.
The bad news: a longer ban in the Gulf is likely this time next year, which could put a big crimp on fishing-related tourism here.
Grouper is one of the biggest draws for vacationing anglers who are willing to spend hundreds of dollars for just a few hours on charter boats offshore.
"When they think offshore they think grouper," said Capt. Jack Ryan of Siesta Key.
The regulations follow federal research into the dwindling health of the gag grouper population. Scientists found that gag grouper are being overfished at a rate that jeopardizes their ability to maintain a thriving population.
"We were removing fish at too high a rate," driving the number of fish in the water down, said Roy Crabtree, regional administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service Southeast Region. "To reduce the rate that we're removing fish, we put more restrictions on the fishery."
From Feb. 1 to March 31, state and federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico will be closed to recreational fishing for all shallow water grouper species, including gag, scamp, black and red.
Commercial Gulf grouper fishermen are not affected.
The different timetables for the ban in the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico has created "quite a bit of confusion," said Mark Robson, who heads the FWC's division of marine fisheries.
The FWC announced the Atlantic changes this week, leading many people to assume that the four-month ban in the Atlantic applied to the Gulf. While such a lengthy ban is not in place this year for the Gulf, federal regulators are considering it for next year.
"They may well end up with closures as long or longer than what has been done in the Atlantic," Crabtree said. He said new research shows gag and red grouper numbers are down considerably.
"That's going to result in more restrictions coming down the pike. We don't believe that what we've done now is sufficient," Crabtree said, referring to the Gulf regulations.
A four-month ban like the one in place in the Atlantic would devastate local charter fishing businesses, who see their best grouper fishing months in January and April.
The Gulf grouper closure this year is already going to cost Capt. Wayne Genthner of Sarasota about 20 percent of his gross profits, but he said he can probably find a way to make his customers happy. A longer closure, he said, would "be too much to tolerate."
New recreational grouper rules
In the Gulf of Mexico, excluding Monroe County, recreational fishing for shallow water grouper will close from Feb. 1 through March 31. The closure applies to:
• Red, black, gag, yellowfin, yellowmouth, rock hind, red hind and scamp grouper species.
• State and federal waters.
In the Atlantic Ocean, a four-month ban started Friday.
For more information visit the following Web sites:
The National Marine Fisheries Service's reasoning behind the changes: http://tinyurl.com/m4sa5w
The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's saltwater fishing regulations: http://myfwc.com/RULESANDREGS/saltwater_Regulations_Grouper.htm