Grouper law change would be a mistake
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is about to become the lap dog of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The NOAA is the parent federal group of the National Marine Fisheries Service, which administers the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council that controls fisheries in waters beyond state jurisdiction.
The NOAA, not known for using science in its rule-making processes, has decreed that non-commercial fishermen (private individuals who plan on personally eating their catch) may only keep gag grouper caught in the Gulf of Mexico from July 1 through Oct. 31 when they fish nine miles or more offshore. Florida wants to adopt the same rules in state waters, fewer than nine miles offshore.
Unfortunately gag grouper, the most popular and abundant of the inshore groupers, donít hang around in state waters during those hot, summer months. They migrate to cooler water beyond the nine-mile limit ... well beyond it. If youíre fortunate enough to have a big boat capable of safely fishing 50 or more miles out then there is no problem.
Nor is there one if youíre a commercial fisherman who typically spends days offshore in deep water.
The argument FWC makes is that enforcement will be easier if both grouper seasons match. According to the FWC website there are approximately 2.7 million non-commercial fishermen statewide ó who pay taxes via license fees to fish in saltwater, which in turn funds FWC people to enforce the rules, no matter how difficult that might be.
These numbers include visitors, who along with the Joe Lunch Buckets, the guys and gals who put in their 40 or more hours each week and look forward to safely getting out on the water for a shot at some tasty grouper their family and friends can enjoy. They donít particularly want to hear someoneís excuse that ďitís too hard to enforce the rulesĒ when it comes to setting fishing seasons different from the federal ones. They just want to fish.
By now youíve figured out that the feds have done exactly what we are asking the state to do. They established their gag grouper rules to coincide with when the grouper move into their area of operation. They didnít want to deal with recreational fishermen who might have caught a grouper or two in state waters and then wandered into the federal zone, as would be the case during spring and fall. That would be too hard. The NOAA rule-makers also knew very few recreational fishermen would be traveling 50 or more miles out (a three-hour run in moderate seas) into the Gulf to fish for just a few gag grouper, especially during the turbulent summer season. These guys ainít stupid.
So come on Florida, call their bluff. Show them that, yes, enforcement might be a tad tougher, but itís more important that our rankand- file citizens be given a shot at the gags, just like the big boys. And oh by the way, our state economy needs the big bucks that shallowwater grouper fishing provides during the warmer months. By the time you figure in money spent for fuel, dockage, boating costs, actual boat, motor and trailer price tags, trailer/boat registrations and incidentals like bait, beverages and ice, youíre talking about a significant chunk of change. Add food, lodging, air fare, car rental, auto gas, charter/ guide fees and licensing for out-of-state visitors who come to Florida either to specifically fish for grouper or as a side attraction during their vacation, and youíre really talking money. Ask the folks in Apalachicola, Apalachee Bay, Keaton Beach and Steinhatchee (our little section of the Gulf Coast paradise) if they want to give up a significant part of their income because ďitís too hard to enforce the rules,Ē and I think you know the answer. And Governor Rick Scott, if youíre reading this, lots of jobs will be lost if we canít fish for grouper when they are here. The same thing goes for you legislators in town for session. Check with your fishing folks back home and see how they feel. (Hint: Call your local newspaperís outdoors person.) Hmmm, hereís a thought. Why not set the federal season to coincide with when the grouper are all in state waters? Then nobody will be fishing in the deep waters of the Gulf, because the grouper wonít be there.
And close the Gulf to gag grouper fishing in the summer when the gags are there because they will be too far out to safely fish.
And since very few ó if any ó anglers will be snatching them during the summer months, the grouper will be free to mate, thereby increasing the population. Isnít that the ultimate goal of fisheries management? Or am I being too simplistic?
If any of you reading this want to attend the final rules meeting and make your feelings known to the commissioners, itís at the Pat Thomas Law Enforcement Academy Auditorium, U.S. Highway 90, east of Quincy. The meeting starts at 8:30 a.m., on Feb. 8. If you want to submit written comments, go to www.myfwc.com and follow the links under Saltwater Fishing.
Jerr y Gerardi
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