The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) moved forward with proposals to make tarpon and bonefish catch-and-release-only in state waters.
The new rules include eliminating all harvest of tarpon with the exception of possession of a single tarpon when in pursuit of an International Gamefish Association (IGFA) record. Anglers will also have to have a tarpon tag.
The FWC board agreed Wednesday to keep the tarpon tag price at $50 per tag, but limited them to one tag per person, per year. The board also modified the tarpon tag program, including reporting requirements and shifting the start and end date for when the tarpon tag is valid.
"I think it's awesome," said John O'Hearn, head of the Lower Keys Guides Association. "I think it is the best thing they could have done."
The board also agreed to discontinue the bonefish tournament exemption permit that allows tournament anglers to temporarily possess bonefish for transport to a tournament scale.
In a separate discussion, the FWC board also reviewed how gear is being used for the tarpon fishery in Boca Grande Pass. The commission directed staff to re-examine the definition of snagging and redefine what gear can be used in the Pass. This issue will likely be brought before the commission at the June meeting as a draft proposal.
Lower Keys guide Will Benson, who attended the Wednesday meeting in Tallahassee, said the rules for the two fish "promote ethical handling of the fish."
"FWC is taking on a fairly sensitive topic, and the draft regulations are going in a very progressive direction," Benson said. "The FWC realizes what valuable resources bonefish and tarpon are."
Also on Wednesday, the FWC board agreed to waive license requirement for taking lionfish, provided harvest is with a pole spear, Hawaiian sling or hand-held net.
The proposal also establishes hook and line rules. The rule allows for the harvest of lionfish with hook and line, or as bycatch by licensed commercial and recreational fishermen, and states there is no bag limit for recreational or commercial harvest for lionfish.
Lionfish are an invasive species native to the Indo-Pacific region. The Florida Keys have felt the impact as lionfish compete with native species for food.
The tarpon, bonefish and lionfish proposals will be brought back before the commission for final approval at its June meeting in Lakeland.