First the good news. Since November 2nd 2011, Gulf of Mexico fishermen targeting red grouper in federal waters are able to bring home more of these highly sought-after reef fish. In November NOAA Fisheries Service announced a final rule that increased the Gulf of Mexico red grouper bag limit from two to four fish in the four-fish grouper aggregate bag limit. According to the latest stock assessments red grouper are neither overfished or experiencing overfishing. In recent years, the recreational sector has not caught its allocation of red grouper, and the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, the agency responsible for establishing management plans in federal waters, voted back in August to relax its recreational red grouper regulations. The increase in bag limit will allow the recreational sector the opportunity to harvest its allocation of red grouper, which was increased from 1.36 million pounds to 1.65 million pounds for 2011.The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission also adopted similar measures for red grouper at their November meeting to be consistent with the federal rules. For Gulf of Mexico state waters (excluding Monroe County), the increase in bag limit will take effect Dec. 23, 2011.
Keep in mind, however, that if the recreational sector does exceed their new catch limit in a given year, required accountability measures would go into place that would decrease the red grouper bag limit from four fish to three fish for the following fishing season. If the annual catch limit is exceeded again the following year, the bag limit would drop to the current bag limit, which is two fish. Fortunately, managers do not anticipate the recreational sector exceeding these limits unless its fishing effort drastically increases.
On the other hand, gag grouper is still considered overfished and undergoing overfishing, which by law, means managers must take action to rebuild its stocks to healthy levels and end overfishing. As part of a 10-year gag rebuilding plan managers are proposing to adjust the recreational and commercial sector's annual catch limits for gag grouper and set the Gulf of Mexico recreational gag fishing season from July 1through October 31 each year starting in 2012.
The 123-day season was chosen to allow for the longest possible season without exceeding annual catch targets and meet the gag grouper rebuilding plan. The rebuilding plan also has accountability measures in place that would shorten the length of this fishing season if catch limits are exceeded. The recreational bag limit of two gag grouper within the grouper aggregate and the minimum size limit of 22 inches total length would remain the same. To learn more about gag grouper management measures visit: http://myfwc.com/media/1603482/FB11-094_Temporary-GagGrouper-Rule.pdf