A meeting among federal and state fishery managers on Tuesday proved the only thing harder than catching fish is coming up with rules and regulations for fishing that are acceptable to all anglers.
Representatives of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico fishery management councils grappled with the issue during a two-day conference in Key Largo.
The group seemed divided about whether to create a regional South Florida management council, develop regional rules, or have the FWC take over rulemaking for species commonly found off South Florida, which would include yellowtail and mutton snapper, black grouper and possibly hogfish.
The group spent hours reviewing stock assessment and other data and discussing various proposals.
Keys and South Florida anglers have lobbied the South Atlantic and the Gulf councils to set up specific rules for the subtropical fishery because it is vastly different from that of Georgia, North Carolina, Texas and other areas under jurisdiction of the two councils. Also, fishermen contend the councils' rules on closed seasons, bag limits and size limits are inconsistent.
Keys-based FWC officer Capt. Dave Dipre argued the lack of consistency is confusing to anglers and law enforcement officers. He pleaded with the group to come up with consistent rules if they don't choose to create a South Florida regional council or rules specific to the Keys.
"I would not want to see regulations that are hard to enforce," Dipre said. "I don't want my guys to have to have their law books in front of them all of the time."
Gulf Council member John Sanchez requested "simplicity" and "uniformity" in regulations.
"You almost have to bring a lawyer when you go fishing," Sanchez said jokingly.
The group also discussed lowering the 10 per person daily bag limit of mutton snapper. Several Keys fishermen have requested the lower bag limit because many anglers target mutton snapper while the fish are spawning on Keys reefs in May and June. The fishermen are worried about the long-term health of the fishing stock.
Fishermen told Sanchez that they are catching their limit but the overall size of each fish is smaller.
Sanchez and council member Ben Hartig recommended reducing the daily bag limit to five mutton snapper during the regular season, and two while the species is spawning in May and June.
"Fifty pounds of fish (per person) is reaching commercial fishing levels," Hartig said of the current bag limit.
The group of fishery managers will reconvene at 8:30 a.m. today at the Key Largo Hilton to discuss whether to allow fishermen to keep Goliath grouper. Fishery managers prohibited the keeping of the groupers nearly 24 years ago after years of overfishing severely reduced the population.