Grouper, snapper limits are hot topics

Published November 5, 2006

ST. PETERSBURG - All eyes will be on Galveston, Texas, next week when the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council meets to discuss red snapper, gag grouper and greater amberjack.

Federal officials are expected to reduce the recreational bag limit for red snapper from four to two fish per day. This will have a severe impact on anglers in North Florida, where snapper is the mainstay of the charter-boat fleet.

But in Tampa Bay, the hot item is gag grouper. Last year, anglers protested as federal officials severely restricted the red grouper catch. Now, the other shoe is set to fall. One option would be to reduce the five-fish aggregate bag limit to two fish per angler per day (one red and one gag).

No final action will be taken at the Nov. 13-16 meeting. Anglers will have a chance to voice their concerns at public hearings that most likely will be held early next year.

The Recreational Fishing Alliance and the Florida Chapter of the Coastal Conservation Association are expected to rally their troops and oppose any measures further limiting recreational bag limits. Not since the 1994 drive to ban gill nets from coastal waters has an issue so galvanized the sport fishing community.

For more information, go to gulfcouncil.org.

More Money for Red Tide: The Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute has been awarded $4.73-million to study Red Tide.

Last year's Red Tide, one of the worst on record, killed thousands of sport fish and hundreds of endangered sea turtles. Researchers don't know what caused the latest outbreak of the tiny algae known as Karenia brevis, but many sportsmen suspect Red Tide and man-made pollution are connected.

Researchers, however, note fish kills associated with massive Red Tides have been recorded in area waters since the 1540s. Under the new grant, nine scientists from seven research organization will study the relationship between Red Tide and man-made nutrients.

Not So New Gator Rules: A series of news stories last week concerning Florida's alligator hunting rules has prompted the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to declare "the FWC has not reduced gator protection."

According to a story by Reuters News Service carrying a Tallahassee dateline, "The once-endangered alligator has made such a phenomenal comeback in Florida that state wildlife officials are considering making it fair game once again."

Florida has about 1-million alligators, or roughly one alligator for every 18 people. The Florida reptile has been a hot topic since the summer when a series of fatal attacks captured the national spotlight.

In December, state officials met and discussed the possibility of extending the legal alligator hunting season. Officials also considered allowing private landowners to deal with nuisance gators instead of calling a licensed professional. Professional alligator hunters kill about 8,000 a year, with another 8,000 killed by sportsman who get alligator permits through a state lottery.

But an unspecified "communication breakdown" caused a flurry of news stories, prompting FWC officials to issue a news release to set the records straight:

"The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has completed a survey to measure public attitudes about the FWC's alligator management efforts. The survey revealed that some Floridians would like the agency to consider reclassifying alligators from 'species of special concern' to game animals and relax prohibitions against property owners removing nuisance gators.

"The FWC has taken no action to adopt those suggestions but will hear a staff report about them during its Dec. 6-7 meeting at Key Largo. If FWC commissioners direct staff to proceed with those suggestions, the process likely would take several years and require a great deal of scientific scrutiny and public input."