What's Wrong with the Regulations?

by Capt. John Sahagian

I want to spend a little time sharing my thoughts on some of our current fishing regulations and possible improvements to them. Where possible, the state and federal regulating authorities try to synchronize the rules to simplify things for the anglers of the state.  For whatever reason, the powers that be are doing a pretty poor job of it.  Some of our regulations are too restrictive, while I believe others to be too generous.  I believe that the fisheries biologists are better at math than fisheries biology.  The problems occur when the figures that they try to use for their calculations are in error.  If you start a calculation with bad information, you will get a conclusion that does not reflect reality. Another major problem is that the biologists have to deal with politicians who are trying to make a few small, but vocal, user groups happy.  

For my first case in point, there are different allocations of the resources between recreational and commercial fishermen.  Being that there is only a way to count what the commercial fishermen sell, and no real way to determine what the recreational anglers of the state land, the numbers are bound to be questionable at best. Because of the lobbying power of the commercial fishermen and the relative lack of voice in the recreational sector, the division of the resources is not always fair.  A prime example of that is the seasonal divide of the snowy grouper.  The commercial season started January 1st, while the recreational anglers do not get to fish until May 1st, with the limit for recreational vessels being one per boat. This ridiculous limit came about because of a sampling from the waters off of Georgia.  Ironically, we in the Keys waters have an abundance of these tasty fish and we may not reasonably access them.  To cure this problem, the Federal South Atlantic council could simply divide the sector into sub groups--possibly South Florida, the rest of Florida, Georgia, and finally, the Carolinas, which total the South Atlantic council. This would give anglers a voice in regulation of the fisheries near their home waters.

In my humble opinion, there should never be a point in time where the resource is divided such that one can buy a fish from a commercial fisherman, but not be allowed to catch one for them self. Another issue occurred in relation to the snowy grouper season closure and, in a lesser extent, to the small limit.  Most anglers who catch blueline tilefish do so in conjunction with fishing for snowy grouper. When anglers do not fish for the grouper, they rarely venture offshore just to fish for the tilefish.  When the tilefish landing numbers went down, fisheries biologists erroneously concluded that the tilefish numbers were in decline and opted to close the season on them too.  Simply taking samplings, or asking for opinions of anglers with experience in the fishery, could have solved these problems.  Also, once a regulation has been enacted, it is overly difficult to have it rescinded. The vast majority of deep water fishing is done in federal water.  The State of Florida shows more common sense in this topic; however, the more liberal limits imposed by the State do not help in this instance. Another topic is the regulations involving dolphin.  The current dolphin regulations allow 10 fish per angler, and a twenty inch size limit.  My argument is that when trying to control smaller fish long enough to get a reliable measurement, the fish thrash around so violently that they do irreparable harm to themselves.  Therefore, many fish that are released do not survive.  I cannot believe that the biologists involved in the rule making have ever fished and had to handle small dolphin, or they would know better.  My solution is to rescind the size limit and, if necessary, reduce the bag limit.  The result would be a reduction in dead fish.  Since dolphin grow so fast, the fish taken at under the current size limit would have been legal in a matter of weeks anyway. When dealing with mangrove snapper there is a difference on both size and bag limit in state and federal waters.

Currently there is a bag limit of five fish in state waters and ten in federal waters.  Mangrove snapper are our most common and prolific inshore food fish.  In this case, changing the state limit to match the federal limit is only reasonable.  In regards to the size limit, the federal twelve inch size limit makes more sense that the state limit of ten inches.  Also on the topic of snapper, both state and federal limits on mutton snapper are way too liberal.  I feel that cutting the ten fish limit in half, or even more, would save us from what might soon be a seasonal restriction during the spawning season. Sharks are another hot button issue these days.  The vast majority of sharks are being protected solely because of political pressure exerted by environmental activist organizations.  The Keys are actually experiencing an unprecedented over population of sharks these days.  Sharks are not the mindless killers that many make them out to be.  Sharks have learned that taking up station around anglers is an easy way to get a meal without working for it.   For the few species of shark that are actually endangered, I am more than willing to support restrictions.  For others that have been thrown into the protected list for no real reason, it is high time to get them removed.

Finally, in regard to the inshore grouper seasonal closure for Keys waters (listed under the Atlantic rules for federal waters and the state rules for Monroe County), our closed season is from January one until April 30th.  For Keys residents, this closure coincides with when the grouper are most available in our waters.  However, it allows the rest of the state to fish when the fish are most accessible to them.  Not an equitable division of the state resource in my opinion. These topics barely scratch the surface with what is wrong with the industry.  The rules are so complex, and changing without sufficient notification, that it is practically impossible for the lay angler to follow them.  Even professional anglers, such as myself, often come uncomfortably close to inadvertently breaking a regulation, that it is scary.  I have always prided myself in being a law abiding citizen and intend to always fish within the rules, but I do work to achieve more common sense in the drafting of those rules.  I urge all anglers to follow along with what is going on in the industry and to attend the meetings of both the State and Federal offices.  Unfortunately, common sense seems to be increasingly uncommon and so, for an angler like me with Fishing ADD, it results in more than a few sleepless nights wondering what unnecessary or ill-conceived regulations the powers that be will come up with next.




Capt. John Sahagian
Capt. John Sahagian

Author

Offshore and backcountry fishing in the Lower Keys, Capt. John fishes out of Little Torch Key. Catch up with him at 305-872-3407 or on the web at fishingthefloridakeys.com



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