The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) discussed the possibility of creating saltwater game fish and sport fish designations at its Dec. 5 Commission meeting in Apalachicola.
After public comment from 18 people and the Commissioners’ discussion, the FWC decided to approve the proposed draft rule about the designation. The Commission will possibly make a final decision on this measure at its February meeting in Orlando.
While Florida has many recreationally important species, it does not have an official saltwater game fish or sport fish designation.
Reasons for considering these changes include helping highlight and protect some of Florida’s premier recreational fish and encouraging anglers to adopt voluntary conservation practices such as catch-and-release. If adopted, these changes could lead to healthier fish populations and help Florida market its unique fishing opportunities to residents and visitors.
“I think it’s an opportunity for this Commission to create a lasting legacy,” said Chairman Kenneth Wright. “I think it will send a signal to fishermen around the world that we are a world-class fishing destination.”
At the meeting, staff presented the Commission with potential game fish and sport fish definitions and described how fish within these designations could be managed.
Suggested parameters for game fish would include no commercial harvest, possession or sale.
The sport fish designation would offer a higher level of protection than game fish by making selected species catch-and-release only, including no recreational harvest as well as no commercial harvest, possession or sale.
Before moving forward with the proposal, the Commission decided to remove a parameter that would have limited gear to hook-and-line only for both designations. They also removed another parameter that was proposed for the game fish designation only that would have required captain and crew of for-hire vessels such as charter boats to have a bag limit of zero and not be allowed to take fish home for themselves.
Which fish species will be included under the game fish or sport fish designations will not be decided at the February Commission meeting. If game fish and sport fish designations are approved, staff will return to future meetings with suggestions for potential fish species candidates.
Recreational fishing in Florida has a high cultural and economic value, and protecting Florida’s premier recreational fish is a priority of the Commission.
Public comment can be sent to Marine@MyFWC.com. Staff members are also hosting webinars on Dec. 10 and 12 to gather public comment. These meetings will be from 6 to 8 p.m. To participate in the webinar, visit http://fwc.adobeconnect.com/mfm/. There is a cap of 100 participants that can be logged into the online webinar at once. This is on a first-come basis. To give everyone a chance to participate, please do not attend both webinar sessions. Each webinar will cover the same topic.
Voice-only access is also available for those without computer access. For questions about webinar access, please contact Carly Canion at 850-617-9627 or Carly.Canion@MyFWC.com. Learn more by visiting MyFWC.com/Fishing – click on “Saltwater Fishing,” “Rulemaking” and “Workshops.”