Fisheries Regulations Questions and Answers

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn March, Florida Sea Grant and NOAA partnered to conduct a series of workshops aimed at clarifying existing fisheries regulations for offshore recreational and commercial fishermen.  Six workshops took place in Florida.  During the workshops NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service personnel went over specific regulations that they get a lot of questions regarding.  They also addressed rules that can be very costly when an angler is found out of compliance.   The remainder of the workshop was devoted to a Q & A with participants.  Below I highlight some of the questions or topics that popped up at multiple workshops in Florida.

What permits are required to fish in Federal waters?  All owners of vessels used to fish recreationally for Atlantic Highly Migratory Species (HMS) which includes Atlantic tunas (other than blackfin), billfish, sharks and swordfish must have a HMS recreational angling permit (the permit stays with the vessel).  A HMS charter/headboat permit is required for all charter or headboats that fish for or possess and HMS.  Charter vessels and headboats require a reef fish permit when fishing for snappers, groupers, amberjack, tilefish, hogfish and gray triggerfish.  Also, charter vessels and headboats fishing for mackerels, cobia, little tunny, cero, dolphin and bluefish require a coastal pelagics permit.  Applications for permits other than HMS permits may be obtained by calling 877-376-4877.  HMS permits can be purchased online at www.nmfspermits.com or by calling 888-872-8862.

Where do the Federal regulations apply? Federal recreational fishing regulations apply in federal waters (beyond 9 nautical miles from the nearest point of land in the Gulf), and may also apply to recreational fishing in state waters.  Fishermen possessing a federal permit who are fishing in state waters should note that the federal regulations apply, unless the state regulations are more restrictive. 

Can a permitted angler land a Tiger Shark caught in Federal waters?  The answer is YES.  According to FWC Division of Marine Fisheries (Tallahassee), as long as an angler immediately lands the shark and does not stop to fish in State waters this is allowed.

Can you target Goliath Grouper for catch and release? – In Federal waters the answer is NO.  50 CFR 622.7 states that “It is unlawful for any person to (k) Fish for, harvest, or possess a prohibited species, or a limited-harvest species in excess of its limitation, sell or purchase such species, fail to comply with release requirements, or molest or strip eggs from a Caribbean spiny lobster, as specified in 622.32.  In State waters however the answer is YES.  Although the state does not prohibit targeting of Goliath groupers they do stress best angler practices.  These include not removing a large Goliath from the water as it can cause damage due to the weight of the fish on the skeletal structure.    Technically, any handling that results in unnecessary injury to the fish would be classified as “Harvesting” which is not allowed.   FWC advises anglers to photograph large goliath grouper while the fish is in the water to prevent unnecessary injury.  More information on best angling practices can be found at: http://myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/recreational/goliath-grouper/catch-and-release/ 

A note on Circle hooks…Kale hooks, also known as Circle C hooks MAY NOT be used when fishing for reef fish using live or natural bait.  Kale hooks also known as Circle C hooks do not meet the definition of a circle hook, which is “A circle hook is a hook originally designed and manufactured so that the point of the hook is turned perpendicularly back toward the shank of the hook to form a generally circular or oval shape”.

A final note on Venting tools… The federal reef fish gear rule is slated for revision as a result of Gulf Council action in February to remove the venting tool requirement. But anglers don’t throw away your venting tools yet!  This action is currently in rule development (on the federal side) and then must receive final approval.  The state anticipates a change in its rule to remain consistent with federal regulations.  And, regardless anglers will still want to take necessary action when a fish is experiencing barotrauma.  The change in the rule will not only allow anglers to still use venting tools but will also open the door for anglers to use other tools such as descending gear or recompression tools which rapidly descend fish back down to depth where swim bladder gasses are recompressed.  For more information on venting or descending gear/recompression tools including some great video, visit www.catchandrelease.org