Commission faces heat for considering increase in redfish catch

A proposal by state fisheries managers to increase the daily recreational catch for red drum in North Florida recalls the “redfish wars” of the late 1980s, according to a veteran recreational fishing activist.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on Wednesday will consider raising the limit for red drum from one to two in North Florida. The commission meets in Havana at the Pat Thomas Law Enforcement Center, 215 Academy Drive, beginning at 8:30 a.m.

Red drum, more commonly known as redfish, are a popular sport fish that were severely overfished in the 1980s. Chef Paul Prudhomme of New Orleans at that time popularized blackened redfish as a dish.

The Cabinet in 1989 prohibited the commercial harvest of red drum following meetings packed with recreational and commercial fishing groups wearing rival colors, said Ted Forsgren, executive director of the Coastal Conservation Association of Florida.

“The governor and Cabinet voted 6-1 (to end commercial fishing),” Forsgren said. “That is what started the good redfish fishery we have today. We have put a lot into it to protecting the fishery.”

In 2007, the FWCC established a goal of having at least 40 percent of red drum surviving through age 4 to become spawning adults. The goal has been met in Northwest Florida, the agency said, but fish populations have fallen short at times in South Florida, according to the agency.

With fishing for grouper and snapper have been cut back, “We just have some commissioners who are really looking to try to give some fish back to anglers,” FWCC spokesman Lee Schlesinger said.

But Forsgren said groups including CCA-Florida, the Florida Guides Association, International Game Fish Association, the Florida Wildlife Federation and the Federation Fly Fishers support maintaining the existing limit of one fish per day statewide for recreational anglers.

CCA Florida says in written comments that increasing the daily catch in North Florida could further reduce the number of fish in South Florida. That could cause more severe fishing restrictions in South Florida, CCA says.

Much of the agency staff wasn’t around more than 20 years ago when the redfish wars were fought, Forsgren said. Red fish have since become a premier inshore fishery, he said, responsible for boosting the state’s economy and creating jobs.

“It’s a huge success — (for) all those hundreds of people who worked on it during the early days during the redfish wars,” Forsgren said. “Everyone appreciates what they have, that there is a large abundance of redfish.

“You can go out and catch a whole bunch of them and keep one. It’s wonderful. Why they would want to change it and mess it up, we don’t understand.”

(Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission which can be obtained at .)