Thanks to successful spotted seatrout management, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted Wednesday to increase commercial and recreational fishing opportunities for the popular fish.
"What we are trying to do is be fair in a fishery that is in abundance and, in some cases, way in abundance," chairman Kathy Barco said in a statement. "We are dealing with a success story."
The decision came during the first day of the two-day November commission meeting in Key Largo.
Changes take effect Feb.1 and include:
Removing regional recreational season closures (removing the current February closure in northern Florida and the November-through-December closure in southern Florida);
Raising the recreational bag limit in northeast Florida from five to six;
Changing commercial seasons based on region - lengthening them from three months to five months in the northwest, southwest (June 1-Oct. 31) and southeast (May 1-Sept. 30) regions, and from three months to six months in the northeast region (June 1-Nov. 30);
Allowing spotted seatrout to be sold 30 days after the close of the regional commercial season;
Changing the commercial vessel limit to 150 when there are two commercially licensed fishermen aboard;
Redefining the areas where spotted seatrout are managed by splitting the state into four management zones instead of three.
The FWC also said it took steps to prohibit the harvest of tiger sharks and three species of hammerheads from state waters in an effort to further protect these top predators, which rely on Florida waters to survive.
The new measures, which also prohibit the possession, sale and exchange of tiger sharks and great, scalloped and smooth hammerhead sharks harvested from state waters, will go into effect Jan. 1. These sharks can still be caught and released in state waters and can be taken in adjacent federal waters.
Florida waters offer essential habitat for young sharks, which is important for species such as the slow-to-reproduce tiger shark, which takes about 15 years to reach maturity.
The FWC is also working on an educational campaign highlighting fishing and handling techniques that increase the survival rate of sharks that are caught and released while ensuring the safety of the anglers targeting them.