October 05, 2023
Officials announce this week that there will be early closures for gag grouper statewide after an already shortened recreational season. Originally slated to close November 10, the season will now end for Gulf anglers on October 19 and Atlantic anglers on October 23 in both state and federal waters.
Updated 2023 Florida Gag Grouper Regulations
An FWC news bulletin states, "Consistent state and federal recreational seasons for gag grouper will help prevent quota overages and mitigate risks of future paybacks and shortened seasons. The gag grouper stock is overfished and experiencing overfishing and significant quota reductions have been implemented to help end overfishing."
This modification came into effect for the Atlantic after a new rebuilding plan for gag groupers was recently approved by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce which revised and reduced the commercial and recreational catch limits for gag (new commercial catch limit 85,326 pounds gutted, recreational limit 90,306 pounds gutted). NOAA reports that recreational and commercial landings have reached the 2023 revised catch limits. They ended the statement with, "This closure is necessary to protect the gag population."
NOAA also claimed in another press release that, "Projections of recreational catch and effort data indicate the recreational Gulf gag annual catch limit of 403,759 pounds gutted weight will be reached on October 19, 2023." Furthermore alleging, "Preliminary reports indicate high catch rates of gag this year, in part because of changes in the season start from June 1 to September 1."
Are Gag Grouper Populations in Peril?
“We were disappointed to hear of early gag closures on the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, particularly in light of growing evidence which suggests methods used to calculate recreational landings are over-estimating effort,” said Jeff Weakley, Florida Sportsman Editor. “Are we really in danger of over-taking the annual catch limits? Are the numbers compelling enough to justify suddenly chipping a few weeks out of the fall season? Most of us are already limited in the days we can get out and grouper fish—it’s rough in late October and November.
“Obviously we support conserving fisheries for the next generation. Groupers take a long time to reach maturity, and a population out of balance can take a long time to recover. On the other hand, there are places like Crystal River, Steinhatchee and St. Marks where there seem to be plenty of keeper-size fish, and if captains are demonstrating favorable catch-per-effort figures season after season, perhaps the calculus for gag recovery itself is somehow flawed. Overall, it seems fisheries managers could’ve hit the ‘pause’ button on this.
“It’s frustrating for sure, and provokes a lot of questions that demand answers. We intend to watch this closely.”