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Rebuilding Gulf Gray Triggerfish

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New Regulations to Rebuild Gulf Gray Triggerfish Stocks

In early 2013, the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council took important actions to protect the gray triggerfish stock in federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico. In February 2013, the FWC Commission approved federally consistent regulations in state waters of the Gulf for gray triggerfish. These changes in state and federal waters included a 12-fish commercial trip limit, a two-fish per person daily recreational bag limit, and a commercial and recreational closed season from June 1 to July 31 each year. The recreational size limit remained unchanged at 14 inches as measured to the fork of the tail. These rules became effective in state and federal waters of the Gulf on June 10, 2013.

Many anglers are asking why the closed season and more restrictive bag limits were necessary. Based on the most recent stock assessment, completed in 2011, gray triggerfish are currently overfished and undergoing overfishing. Overfished is a term used by fisheries managers that means the population of a species is too small to provide for optimum levels of recruitment and optimum yields to fisheries. Overfishing means that the rate of removal (due to harvesting and fishing related mortality) from the population is exceeding the ability of the stock to replenish itself. The rebuilding plan and the new regulations are designed to reduce the rate at which gray triggerfish are removed from the population and allow stocks to recover to a level that is healthy and sustainable.

Scientists have learned that gray triggerfish build nests near high quality reef habitats during June and July. Often a nest will include one male and multiple females that guard the nest and care for the eggs. During this reproductive time, gray triggerfish are particularly vulnerable to fishing pressure which can disrupt the entire reproductive event. The closed season in June and July was included in both state and federal waters to protect these fish during spawning and increase reproductive success.

Gray triggerfish, which prefer water depths that exceed 70 feet, are primarily found on natural and artificial reefs which provide food and protection from predators. Landings data indicate that approximately 60 percent of the gray triggerfish harvested in the Gulf are landed or brought to shore in Florida, making this state an important part of the rebuilding plan. While most are harvested in federal waters of the Gulf (beyond 9 nautical miles from shore) gray triggerfish are also harvested in state waters off several counties where the continental shelf drops off more steeply providing suitable depths inside state waters. The combination of the two month closed season and reduced recreational and commercial bag limits are expected to rebuild stocks and improve future recreational fishing opportunities.

Regulations in red are new this year.

Purple text indicates an important note.

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