Rules changes will have positive impacts on Florida’s offshore anglers

Between the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Governor Ron DeSantis, positive changes are coming to Florida’s fishery for offshore anglers.

“Florida is the fishing capital of the world thanks to our pristine natural resources and an abundance of fisheries, including red snapper,” Governor DeSantis said last week. “FWC has shown that this fishery is sustainable, so we are happy to provide these additional recreational fishing days to anglers.”

Starting this weekend and continuing the following weekends of Oct. 19-20 and Oct. 26-27, recreational anglers are once again allowed to harvest the popular red snapper in Gulf of Mexico waters.

This mini season is a welcomed announcement, but with only six days it may cause anglers to push themselves in less than ideal weather conditions offshore. Strong easterly winds have persisted over the past week and will remain over this weekend. Seas on Saturday morning were between 3 and 4 feet about 50 miles offshore, meaning a rough ride for those who ventured out to popular bottom fishing grounds.

A few anglers fished the nearly full moon over Friday night into Saturday morning and came in with a variety of snapper including limits of red and mangrove snapper. While the fishing was great, they also reported extremely rough seas.

That is the biggest problem with red snapper on the Gulf Coast. For consistent catches anglers regularly venture 120 feet or deeper, around 40 miles, from Anna Maria Island. There are occasional fish caught shallower, but deeper is better.

If the weather allows more anglers and smaller boats to venture out over the mini season weekends, I expect most to catch their two per person limits of fish. The red snapper fishery continues to be our most controversial with its limited seasons, but these six days are a welcome change that hopefully will continue in the future with more access to the fishery.

Two other changes will affect offshore anglers in the coming months and years as well. One day after the announcement of the red snapper season extension, a red grouper announcement was made. The 2018 recreational annual catch limit of red grouper was 2.58 million pounds. Both 2019 and 2020 will have that number reduced to 1 million pounds.

“This action was taken based on information indicating the red grouper population may be declining and not large enough to sustain past harvest levels,” the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council press release stated. “Public testimony from Gulf of Mexico fishermen indicated they observed few legal-sized red grouper, suggesting a declining population.”

While the current seasons, bag limits and sizes are not changing for red grouper, it is most likely going to soon.

I’ve been of the opinion that the overabundant amount of red snapper populations are negatively affecting the catches and possibly populations of other Gulf bottom fish. If we get more red snapper days for less gag and red grouper days, anglers should be happy with that. The fishery needs to be rebalanced.

One species that will see a new limit Jan. 1 is blackfin tuna. The updated rule will see a limit of two fish per person or 10 fish per vessel, whichever is greater.