Gulf Grouper Seasons Extended for 2013!
Gulf of Mexico gag grouper management strategies are working, and the 2013 recreational seasons have been extended to allow increased opportunities for recreational anglers in both state and federal waters. While strict regulations required under the federal gag grouper rebuilding plan have been a tough pill to swallow for recreational anglers, associated businesses and local communities, the extended season in 2013 is sure to provide some welcome relief.
State waters of the Gulf, which extend out to nine nautical miles from shore, will open July 1 and close Dec. 4 for all counties except Franklin, Wakulla, Jefferson, Taylor and Monroe. As in 2012, a regional harvest season (April 1 to June 30) was selected for state waters off the four county Big Bend region. In all state waters off Monroe County (Gulf and Atlantic side), the shallow water groupers (gag, red, black, yellow mouth, yellow fin and scamp) are open from May 1 through Dec. 31 each year.
In federal waters of the Gulf (beyond nine nautical miles from shore), gag grouper will also open on July 1, 2013, and will close Dec. 3, 2013 or when the harvest data shows that the recreational annual catch target (ACT) of 1.287 million pounds (gutted weight) has been harvested.
There is also great news for other shallow water groupers (red, black, yellow fin, yellow mouth and scamp) in the Gulf. The February and March closed season, which has applied to both state and federal waters in recent years (with the exception of state waters off Monroe County), will now only apply to federal waters outside the 20 fathom curve. This means that if you are fishing in less than 120 feet of water in the Gulf (excluding state waters of Monroe County), these grouper species will be open on a year round basis.
Recreational anglers and the owners of associated businesses have every reason to cheer the longer grouper harvest seasons. Longer seasons provide more opportunities to harvest grouper in shallower, near shore waters. Pulling gags up in 30 to 60 feet of water is much easier on the fish and results in much lower mortality rates when releasing them compared to fishing in deeper water. Having a frisky gag on a short string where you can feel every tail pump is also a lot more fun than winding one up that turns into a balloon half way to the top.
The ability to release a fish and watch it quickly shoot back to the bottom, happy and unharmed, is also much better than seeing one all gassed up and struggling to get back down only to be eaten by larger predator. Good venting and/or decompression techniques can help a great deal when you are bottom fishing in deeper water, but these methods will never achieve the survival rates of fish caught and released in shallow water.
As you are enjoying the longer grouper seasons, keep in mind that your choice of fishing locations and depths has an impact on reef fish populations and the length of future harvest seasons. Reducing the number of dead discards supports resource recovery and provides more fishing opportunities in the future. ®
Regulations in red are new this year.
Purple text indicates an important note.