Limit drops, fork length rises
One of the Florida Keys’ most popular fish to catch and eat, the hogfish, is subject to some serious commercial and recreational changes. Starting Aug. 24, the bag limit off the Keys for hogfish has been dropped from five fish per person per day to one. Also, the fork length off the Florida Keys is now raised from 12 to 16-inch fork length; In Gulf waters, north of Cape Sable, to 14-inch fork length.
To be clear, Monroe County waters south of Cape Sable are considered Atlantic waters, not Gulf. So, here’s where it gets a little confusing. The federal government is closing the recreational season in federal waters early, and commercial is closing in state and federal waters, but not the Gulf. State waters heed the 16-inch fork length and bag limit changes, but have not, yet, changed the closure.
So, how does this affect the Keys? If you are a recreational fisherman in state waters, which extend three nautical miles offshore in the Atlantic side and nine nautical miles offshore on the Gulf side, recreational harvesting of one 16-inch or bigger hogfish is still allowed through Oct. 31, 2017. This season may close earlier if the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission decides to mimic the federal early closure at the FWC meeting taking place in Okeechobee Sept. 27-28. But, as of now, recreational catching of hogfish is still permitted in state waters with the closure happening Oct. 31 through May 1, 2018. Fresh local hogfish will reappear on menus starting Jan. 1, 2018, when the commercial season in state and federal waters will reopen.
The goliath grouper’s future
The Florida Keys public input workshops regarding possible limited harvesting of goliath grouper took place last month in several locations. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will be discussing the goliath grouper ban at its December meeting and is still hosting statewide workshops.
“It’s been dependent on where we have been,” said Amanda Nalley, public information coordinator for the FWC’s Division of Marine Fisheries Management about the grouper’s fate. “It’s a complex topic and it hasn’t been one-sided on whether we should open it, or keep it closed.”
Virtual workshops can also be “attended” online, should locals want to voice their opinions and missed the in-person workshops. The online workshop can be found at: myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/rulemaking/workshops/
On a fishing side note, snook season opens Sept. 1 with no new changes, and the Saltwater License Free Fishing Day takes place statewide on Sept. 2.