The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) unanimously decided on a draft 2013 Gulf of Mexico gag grouper recreational season Wednesday, Dec. 5, at its Commission meeting in Apalachicola.
After discussing several options and hearing public testimony from 26 people, Commissioners chose draft options that, if approved in February, will make most Gulf state waters consistent with the current federal season, with the exception of a four-county region.
The current proposed federal season for Gulf gag grouper is slated to start July 1 and end when the annual catch target (the number of fish that can be harvested for that year within the rebuilding plan) is expected to be met, which will likely be sometime in November or early December.
The federal season ending date should be finalized in spring 2013.
The Commissioners’ proposal included an April 1 through June 30 season in state waters off the counties of Taylor, Jefferson, Wakulla and Franklin. According to the proposal, the four-county region will not open during the July 1 through November/December federal season. Monroe County is excluded from the Gulf of Mexico season because it is included in the Atlantic season for gag grouper.
“In terms of effort, this four-county region had an insignificant impact to the resource but a significant impact to the economy and the culture,” said Commissioner Brian Yablonski. “We specifically picked less-populated counties and a lot of that had to do with where the fish are when the season is open. This at least gave the Big Bend area a chance to fish. Full consistency takes the Big Bend out.”
The Commission asked staff to work with federal fishery managers in gathering data on the effect this proposal may have on the length of the federal season and bring back this information to the February Commission meeting.
“The important thing is it looks like we are going in a positive direction for next year,” said Commissioner Ron Bergeron about the proposed federal season, which will potentially be lengthened in 2013.
Other options considered by the Commission included full consistency with the federal season in all state waters, split seasons that would open in spring and winter, and regional seasons.
The 2012 recreational gag grouper season was July 1 through Oct. 31 in all federal and most state waters, with the exception of state waters off Taylor, Jefferson, Wakulla and Franklin counties, which were open April 1 through June 30.
Public comment on this draft rule can be sent to Marine@MyFWC.com or can be given by calling 850-487-0554.