If I were to ask you what are the current regulations on gag, red and scamp grouper, how accurately do you think you could answer? How about red snapper?
These ever-changing reef fish regulations now have new seasons put in place for the rest of 2016 following the Feb. 10 Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission meetings. When the news started to spread of longer gag grouper and red snapper seasons, I saw local anglers taking to social media to celebrate. That's when I realized how few people truly know what they mean and how confusing all these regulations are.
The newly proposed regulations, which still need final approval at the FWC's April meeting, would allow a Saturday and Sunday red snapper season from May 7 to May 28 before opening continuously through July 10. It would then open for Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in September and October, a total of 78 days, in Gulf of Mexico state waters.
The other proposal would now increase gag grouper to a 24-inch minimum size limit. That season will open June 1 through Dec. 31 in Gulf state waters. The 2015 season was July 1 through Dec. 3.
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As most anglers were frothing at the thought of heading offshore for red snapper for more than one or two measly weekends, they needed reminder that the federal season for red snapper still hasn't been decided. State waters only extend to 9 nautical miles offshore, and unless you know something secretive you aren't targeting red snapper closer to shore than about 30 miles.
On the grouper side, this is where things get more confusing. Last year, the federal gag grouper season closed on Dec. 2, while state waters closed on Dec 3. This year the federal season looks to remain the same, so state waters will see the entire month of June and the rest of December to catch gags. However, gag grouper in federal waters, those beyond 9 miles, need to be 22 inches to keep.
For red and scamp grouper, neither has a closed season in state waters. That was true last year as well when red grouper closed federally before the end of the year but remained open in state waters. Federally red, black, scamp, yellowfin and yellowmouth grouper have a closed season from Feb. 1 until March 31. However, in this case they are allowed to be kept inside a line designated as the 20-fathom curve. Confused yet?
For goliath grouper, they are still prohibited, just in case you were wondering.
The one way to make sure you are legal is know how far offshore you are fishing and have the correct, most up-to-date regulations with you. By the time you read this, the regulations may be completely different, so double check!
Bottom line, if you don't know, go with the strictest regulations and seasons.
Links I mention: FWC seasons: http://www.myfwc.com/media/2834422/saltwater-seasons-chart-gulf.pdf
Federal Seasons: http://gulfcouncil.org/fishing_regulations/regulations_matrix/Site/Regulations_Matrix.html
20-fathom map: http://gulfcouncil.org/fishing_regulations/regulations_matrix/Site/Shallow-water_Grouper_Closure.html