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Florida Spotted Sea Trout Alert

The good news: FWC has Paved the Way for an Excellent Sea Trout Fishery. FWC Proposes Increases in Both Recreational and Commercial Limits

Written by James Schulz
Published: Last Updated on

Based on data that reflects a robust fishery that has “met or exceeded all recovery goals,” FWRI suggests that relaxing the take regulations won’t hurt the fishery.

Thus far, there has been little to no public opposition to the changes, which would include nearly doubling the amount of time commercial fishermen can spend fishing for sea trout.

Move their season to different times of the year in some portions of the state, and allow them to sell trout year-round. What might that mean to the fishery in the future?

Basis for Change

The proposed changes are based on the stock assessment that wrapped up in 2010.

According to the data in that assessment, the sea trout fishery is at least meeting all SPR (Spawning Potential Ratio) goals in all regions of the state.

SPR is essentially a ratio of how many eggs are produced for a species that is fished and harvested compared to what the number of eggs could be if there was no fishing harvest.

In other words, the sea trout goal of a 35% SPR means that FWC would consider the fishery successfully managed if, after anglers have taken their limits, the spawn produces at least 35% of the eggs it would have if every angler, recreational and commercial, did not fish for or catch a single trout.

So the good news is that this goal was met. Even better, most recreational anglers would emphatically agree that there are

more sea trout in the water today than there were 5 years ago (keeping in mind that there was a bad red tide in SW Florida in 2005), and way more than before the net ban of the mid-’90s.

In a time when many anglers are starting to believe that a perverse anti-fishing campaign is slowly squeezing out our hopes of keeping any fish for dinner, it is very encouraging to see that FWC is willing to relax regulation for species that have very healthy populations.

Today, most anglers can find trout and catch enough for dinner, a testimony to the wise management of the sea trout fishery.

Proposed Changes

Here are the proposed changes in a nutshell:

  • Recreational anglers would no longer have a closed season anywhere in Florida. Currently, November and December are closed in the south, and February is closed in the north. The size and bag limits would remain the same:  5 fish in the north and 4 in the south, with one over-slot fish, allowed (slot 15-20”).
  • Commercial anglers would get an increased season as well. Currently, they fish commercially during June, July, and August. Their limit is 75 fish per day, with a slot of 15-24”. They are allowed to take fish by hook and line or cast net. The proposal would extend their season to 5 months. In the Northwest, they will be allowed to fish from Sept. 1 through January 31. All other regions would be open for commercial harvest June 1 – October 31. Their other limits would remain the same.
  • One other proposed change to the commercial fishery includes allowing them to sell sea trout year-round (previously they could only sell during their harvest season). The proposed wording also states that the “first point of sale” should be in the open region where they were landed. Thanks to excellent fishery management, Spotted Sea Trout are now plentiful and can be easily caught on artificial lures or live bait.

Our Questions

For most recreational anglers, the biggest questions revolve around the proposed changes to the commercial take, so let’s start from there and work backward.

FWRI research shows that the number of recreational trips targeting sea trout in Florida has trended towards annual increases since 1990, with a good ball-park number being 1.5 million recreational trips in 2008 (see graph below, courtesy FWC).

On the other hand, commercial trips targeting sea trout have dropped from roughly 30,000 annual trips prior to the net amendment to comparatively few since – less than 1000 in 2008.

Essentially, once the most common and destructive forms of netting were banned in the mid-1990s, the sea trout market just didn’t pay enough to justify the effort to catch them.

That may be changing – recreational anglers are reporting more commercial fishermen on the water.

The question recreational anglers should ask is if commercial anglers are asking for an increase in the fishing season, would that mean a commercial sea trout permit will become financially worth obtaining?

If my research is correct (and please reply directly by email if I am wrong), anyone that can prove they fished commercially during the last two years before the ‘90s net ban is eligible to obtain a sea trout permit.

Therefore, if there is suddenly financial gain to be had, we can expect an increase in the overall number of commercial anglers.

That means more commercial guys on the water for a longer period of time.

Further, with staggered seasons, commercial anglers could travel to the open region, increasing pressure for at least a couple of months in each region.

Add to that the proposed allowance to sell fish year-round, does this increase the risk even further?

One final question: If you were not one of the 39 anglers that showed up to the 8 different public comment opportunities, why is that?

If you are like most of us, you had no idea they were being held. Some research into this situation produced a few articles in local papers the day before the meetings in some regions, but it seems that many of these meetings fall through the cracks and we anglers aren’t made aware of our opportunities to be involved in these very important proceedings.

Future Actions

We have heard from members that many of you want to put more effort into participating at these meetings.

Public comment meetings are a fantastic forum for a cordial exchange of thoughts and ideas, and contrary to common belief they are usually functional.

The FWC staff and commissions do want to hear your voice.  Look for meeting notifications and information at www.snookfoundation.org/events and through Snook & Gamefish Regional Directors.

The next FWC Commissioners meeting will be Nov 16-17 in Key Largo You can also have a say in the future of fishery management by simply logging your catch into the Angler Action Program (AAP) at www.angleraction.org.

This incredibly fast and easy tool allows you to report your catch to a database of “total catch, angler-generated” information.

Sea Trout are one of the target species of the AAP (as well as reds, snook, permit, bonefish and tarpon), and this data will become crucial to future fisheries management.

Please take the time to learn more about the program here. As always, you can contact us directly with any questions.

Trout Fishing Effort FL

An interesting view of the number of fishing trips targeting sea trout in Florida, both commercial and recreational.Member Comments

Here’s what some of your fellow SGF members had to say…

“The spotted seatrout has perhaps been the major beneficiary of the 1995 net limitation amendment.

And now, there’s a proposal to increasingly place the species back under the loving care of the same commercial fishermen who all but netted them into oblivion?
There has already been a noticeable increase in the number of commercial fishermen methodically wiping out one pothole after another on local grass flats in our area.

The sale of these fish on a wholesale basis generates virtually no revenue for the state of Florida, especially in comparison to what a vibrant trout stock would generate for the Florida economy in the hotel, restaurant, boat, and tackle sales.

In our Indian River Lagoon particularly, which is renowned for large trout, the 75-fish commercial limit on trout up to 24 inches has had an incredibly detrimental impact on recreational anglers who travel to the area for the sole purpose of landing a monster speck.

If the FWC is serious about maximizing spotted seatrout potential, drop the closed seasons, making the fish available twelve months of the year if stocks can be sustained.

Set a statewide limit of four fish between 15 and 20 inches, with no exemption for keeping any fish over 20 inches. That will generate tourism during an otherwise slow period in North Florida.

Giving an increased presence to commercial fishermen is a slap in the face to the Florida economy at a time when it needs all the help it can get.”

-Jerry McBride

“Keep the limits in place and do away with the closed season.  Give sea trout gamefish status, no commercial harvest
-Captain Tom Van Horn

“Living in Matlacha Isles and fishing Port Charlotte our trout population has gotten very poor and to change it would be a mistake. They need to be protected even more to recover from the bad winter, water conditions, and overfishing. Sharks also need to be protected from overharvesting.

-James Marino. (Florida resident since 1943 Fisherman and Snook Foundation Member)

“I have been guiding in Pine island sound and Charlotte harbor for 40 years, it would be a mistake to increase the catch limits on any inshore species.

The fishing pressure has dramatically increased over the years and I feel stronger restrictions are in order.

Trout fishing for the last 2 years has dropped way off, especially in the winter. I feel the Commission needs to look towards stronger restrictions to preserve our fishery.

They also need to regulate estuary to estuary, not by zones. We are headed to an all-catch and release fishery, stronger restrictions now can delay that.”

Capt Philip O’Bannon

 

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