Roundscale spearfish, which are remarkably similar in appearance to white marlin, are no longer included in Florida’s list of prohibited billfish.
Amendments to Rule 68B-33 of the Florida Administrative Code which became effective on July 1, 2012, removed the harvest prohibition, established a 66 inch lower jaw fork length and included roundscale in the one fish per person harvest limit for non-prohibited billfish. In federal waters of the Atlantic, there is no bag limit or vessel limit on roundscale spearfish.
In this region, the harvest season is closed when 250 fish have been harvested. Both white marlin and roundscale spearfish are included in the list of Highly Migratory Species (HMS). While billfish are primarily a catch and release fishery, harvesting any HMS species requires the possession of an HMS permit and all landings must be reported by telephone or via the web based federal reporting system. For further information, please visit www.hmspermits.gov.
While Florida has recognized roundscale as a separate species since 1999, it remained on the list of prohibited billfish due to its relative scarcity in Florida waters. Genetic testing has since revealed that the species is not nearly as rare as once thought. The testing also ended the scientific debate on whether or not roundscale is truly a separate and distinct species. Based on this genetic research, NOAA Fisheries — Highly Migratory Species Division (HMS) officially recognized the species in January 2011. This is important scientifically because it is now possible to monitor the stocks of both species more accurately. It will also resolve misidentification problems for recreational and tournament fishers. Genetic testing of tournament entries along the Atlantic coast during recent years revealed that approximately 19 percent of tournament winning white marlin were actually roundscale spearfish. Because Florida is on the southern edge of the normal range for this species, the misidentification problem has probably been much less significant in Florida.
So how do you tell them apart?
Short of an on-board genetics lab, the best way to differentiate the species is by measuring the distance from the front edge of the anal fin to the vent. While not visible in the comparison photograph below, on a roundscale this distance is about 5 to 6 inches as compared to about 2 inches for a white marlin. The mid-body scales of a roundscale are also more coarse in texture than those of a white marlin. Next time you catch a white marlin, have a close look — you just might have yourself a spearfish instead!
For additional information on billfish, please visit MyFWC.com/Fishing/Saltwater/Regulations/Highly-migratory-species.
Photo Credite: J. Foster — Guy Harvey Research Institute, Leonard Bryant
Regulations in red are new this year.
Purple text indicates an important note.