Feds may sharply curtail Florida hogfish harvests

Hogfish are considered by many as the tastiest Keys fish there is.
Hogfish are considered by many as the tastiest Keys fish there is. Contributed

Hogfish have become a Florida Keys delicacy but harvest of the snapper species may be sharply curtailed under rules proposed by a federal fishery council.

Recreational fishermen could be limited to a four-month season harvest season, with a one-hogfish-per-day limit, under a preferred alternative crafted by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council.

“For the Florida Keys-East Florida population, assessment results showed the (hogfish) population is undergoing overfishing and is overfished, and therefore is in need of a rebuilding plan,” says a council fact sheet.

At its June meeting, the federal council voted to seek public comment on the slate of proposals, known as Amendment 37 to the agency’s Snapper-Grouper Fishery plan. A 16-inch minimum size limit is recommended, along with a recreational season limited to July through August.

A report by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission staff to the governing board notes, “There is general support for a size-limit increase and lower bag limit, but commercial harvesters in the Keys are largely against a trip limit.”

If eventually approved, “Hogfish in the entire Florida Keys would be managed exclusively by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council.”

A 25-pound commercial trip limit for hogfish in federal waters off the Keys and East Florida has been recommended by federal staff. In the federal council’s report, the preferred alternative could include a Florida quota of 36,449 pounds of hogfish before a harvest closure.

To meet federal standards adopted to protect fisheries, “the [Florida hogfish] commercial annual catch limit would be 3,510 pounds whole weight (1,345 fish) and the recreational annual catch limit would be 15,689 fish.”

A second slate of rules would be adopted for South Atlantic waters north of the Georgia-Florida border.

For more information on the South Atlantic plan, go to safmc.net. The public comment period is scheduled to remain open until Aug. 1.

If the rules are approved, regulations could take effect by mid-2017, according to the council.

Kevin Wadlow: 305-440-3206