Citing “successful spotted Florida seatrout management,” the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) voted to increase both commercial and recreational fishing opportunities for the popular fish.
“What we are trying to do is be fair in a fishery that is in abundance, and in some cases, way in abundance,” said FWC Chairman Kathy Barco. “We are dealing with a success story.”
“At the end of the day, both commercial and recreational fishermen are getting something,” said Commissioner Brian Yablonski.
Changes take effect February 1, 2012, and include:
• Removing regional recreational season closures (removing the current February closure in northern Florida and the November-December closure in southern Florida).
• Raising the recreational bag limit in northeast Florida from five fish to six.
• Changing commercial seasons based on region — lengthening them from three months to five months in the northwest, southwest (June 1 – Oct. 31) and southeast (May 1 – Sept. 30) regions, and from three months to six months in the northeast region (June 1 – Nov. 30).
• Allowing spotted seatrout to be sold 30 days after the close of the regional commercial season.
• When there are two commercially licensed fishermen aboard, changing the commercial vessel limit to 150.
• Redefining the areas where spotted seatrout are managed by splitting the state into four management zones instead of three.
According to FWC, the changes come after a 2010 spotted seatrout stock assessment indicated numbers were consistently exceeding the annual management goal across the state, and nearly double in the northeast region of Florida.
The move sparked a debate with recreational angling and conservation groups, as many believe that freezes over the last two winters have hurt populations of seatrout in Florida.
The Coastal Conservation Association’s Florida chapter issued a statement about the recent move: “While giving back to the recreational fisherman helps the economy, CCA does not believe that opening up more months in different areas of the state for commercial fisherman will gain the economic impact needed to justify the increase in take. By opening up two more months in the northeast, southeast, and southwest commercial zones will increase fishing days by 60% therefore increasing take by a comparable percentage while only increasing the recreational take by 8%. If FWC is to open the five months of commercial fishing in the northwest during the winter months it could be harmful to the northwest sea trout stock.”
CCA also has great concern over the year-long sale of seatrout. “The sale of seatrout works fine now selling your catch up to five days after the season,” CCA said on its website www.ccaflorida.org. “The fresh market yields the real money for the commercial fisherman and frozen fish cannot compete with the other imported fresh fish. Having a year-round sale can also increase the potential possibility for poaching in both sectors. We would ask that the sale of seatrout be open only during the open season and up to five to 10 days after, just as the current rule states.”
During the winter months seatrout congregate in the deep holes in rivers and creeks and become more susceptible to take from a cast net, so CCA urges the Commission to remove cast nets as an acceptable method of take in both sectors.
For more information on fishing for seatrout in Florida, visit www.myfwc.com.