Commercial, recreational fishermen at odds on grouper

The state’s fish and wildlife agency today proposed a rule that would reduce grouper fishing in anticipation of new federal restrictions. But the agency also went further by banning commercial grouper fishing in state waters for an additional month as requested by recreational anglers.

Grouper are among the most popular sport fish in Florida’s Gulf of Mexico waters. But they are vulnerable to fishing when they gather in huge numbers in the spring in near-shore waters and when they spawn deep offshore around rock reefs.

Recreational and commercial fishing groups often blame each other for overfishing and are at odds over new rules being adopted. That was the case again today when the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission considered proposing a state rule that was consistent with proposed new federal regulations for grouper fishing.

The Coastal Conservation Association Florida proposed the longer closed season for commercial fishing in state waters, saying commercial and recreational anglers should be treated alike. CCA Florida primarily represents recreational anglers.

“Recreational fishermen are doing their part to recover the fishery,” said Ted Forsgren CCA Florida executive director. “It is real difficult for them to not be able to fish in state waters, but then commercial fishermen can come in there and take 6,000 pounds during the spawning season. It doesn’t make any sense.”

But the commission didn’t accept other recommendations from Forsgren’s group to impose the same new daily limit of four groupers on commercial fishermen that is being proposed for recreational anglers. Commercial fishermen said imposing a daily limit would put them out of business.

Commercial fishermen, represented by Organized Fishermen of Florida, said they provide seafood for Florida’s visitors and families who don’t have fishing boats. They said they will agree — reluctantly — to the closed season in Florida waters but not the additional restrictions proposed by CCA Florida.

“The perception of us allegedly being able to harvest large amounts of fish during the closed season will make you and us look bad,” said Jerry Sansom, executive director of Organized Fishermen of Florida.

Also today, the commission voted to reduce the red snapper season by six weeks in response to a federal proposal to do the same to reduce overfishing. Both state rules for grouper and snapper will be voted on at the commission’s meeting in Crystal River in June.

For additional information on the proposed grouper rule, go to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission web site at .

Copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and