Since 2009, February and March has been the closed season on all shallow-water grouper species in the Gulf of Mexico. That is changing this year.
In 2014, red and scamp grouper will remain open in state waters through February and March. As a bonus, the boundary for both will extend to waters out to 20 fathoms, about 120 feet or around 35 miles into the Gulf of Mexico.
This welcome change came into effect after the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission presented the Gulf Council with a proposal, essentially stating that opening the season shallower than 20 fathoms would not harm grouper spawning.
"Modifying this closure will likely not impact grouper spawning aggregations since many of these aggregations are in areas with water deeper than 20 fathoms, and therefore would still be part of the Feb. 1 through March 31 closure. Current area closures (such as the Edges) to protect grouper spawning aggregations and prevent the over harvest of shallow-water grouper species will remain in place," the FWC proposal said.
The original ruling was put into place with the intention of helping to rebuild grouper populations, focusing on rebuilding gag grouper stocks. Research has shown that February and March are the spawning seasons for shallow-water grouper species. Closing the season during these months would in essence let grouper get a little privacy during this time.
"The intent of a broad closure for all shallow-water grouper species (which include black, gag, red, red hind, rock hind, scamp, yellowfin and yellowmouth groupers) was to prevent bycatch and discard mortality of gag grouper during the spawning season," the FWC proposal said.
Added fishing areas will provide anglers more opportunities to catch and keep scamp and red grouper during the next two months, when in years past the only reason to run offshore for meat was amberjack and snapper. Red and scamp grouper of legal size can be consistently caught on rocky bottom and ledges 50 feet and deeper.
Scamp grouper tend to act more like mangrove snapper, preferring to eat shrimp and live baits slightly off the bottom. Red grouper are very willing to eat dead sardines and live pinfish.
The limit will continue to be four aggregate grouper per person. Scamp grouper must be 16 inches in the Gulf, while red grouper must be 20 inches.
Gag grouper season is set to open July 1st in state waters, with the closing Dec. 3rd.