Tighter Limits, Better Fishing

Seems like just the other day you could keep four (!) snook. And they had to be a whopping 18 inches long.

Redfish? Put them in the box at 12 inches.

Wow, those were the days, eh?

Not really, I’m afraid, because on most of those days you couldn’t catch many of either species anyway.

The old generous limits, combined with reckless gill netting that killed so many inshore stocks, put way too much pressure on young fish.

Now, after two decades of reforms it’s a new day of good fishing in Florida.

Stricter limits bring us better fishing, including more fish for the table for many more recreational anglers.

For two of the most popular gamesters, snook and redfish, the state is considering additional tightening in order to make sure those populations are kept abundant.

Redfish limits haven’t changed in a decade, with a one-fish limit year-around and a slot size of 18 to 27 inches. Those rules have worked wonders. But a stock assessment claims that redfish “escapement” is a bit less than the 40 percent desired.

Accordingly, staffers of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission suggest tightening the slot to 20 to 26 inches.

Going further, a majority of officers of the Coastal Conservation Association Florida recommend a slot of 21 to 27 inches, plus a closure of fishing in October.

Well, gang, we almost never differ with the CCA, in which we’ve been active from the start. But we really don’t see justification of an October closing.

And we sense that grassroots members and readers don’t favor a closing, either.

We find lots of problems with the escapement guesstimates, which are supposed to represent the percentage of spawning adults that enter the population compared to what it would be in an unfished state. The unfished number is the toughie to figure, and the research looks pretty skimpy because of limited field research.

The state’s own data, moreover, show the catch per angler trip is largely up, not down.

An informal sampling of our field editors, key writers and veterans agrees that most are seeing as many or more redfish now as five or 10 years ago.

In short, we’d suggest cutting the slot to 20 to 27 inches, but with no closure. That’s seems plenty cautious, and good for redfishing.

The FWC will take up the redfish regs June 13-14 in Melbourne Beach.

For snook, the plan most talked about is to reduce the east coast bag limit from two to one, and perhaps trim the slot a bit. It’s now 27 to 34 inches.

CCA favors reducing the snook keeper zone to 28 to 32 inches. Again, I’d say that’s a bit too drastic. The present slot appears to be doing a good job.

The snook rules come before the commission April 11-12 in Tallahassee.

Whatever the outcome, it’s a great feeling to be considering these fine-tuning questions in a good fisheries instead of screaming and clamoring as we had to do for so long just to achieve conservation-oriented fish management.