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Date of Issue: July 22, 2009


More fishing restrictions looming in days ahead

What once was a day of good, clean, free fun will have a price hooked to it come Aug. 1.

A $9-a-year fishing license for shoreside anglers will go into effect on that date. Wade fishers. Beach fishers. Almost everyone.

The exemptions to the new rule are for those using a cane pole or some other fishing gear that does not include a “line-retrieval mechanism” — a reel.

Also exempt are “anglers who qualify for temporary cash assistance, food stamps or Medicaid,” according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

“Also, resident anglers who are age 65 or older and children under age 16 may fish without a license. Active-duty military personnel may fish without a license while home on leave in Florida. Licensed fishing piers have licenses that cover everyone who fishes from them.”

Blame the feds before the fuming against FWC begins.

Federal fishing regulators made a mandate for fishing licenses for all beginning in 2011. The Florida Legislature decided to jump the gun and start its own program, which is much cheaper for anglers than what the feds would have required.

There are some data collection issues involved that the feds want about fishers. The state will probably be able to use the information, too.

FWC officials, of course, would like to see everyone get a regular $17 annual regular saltwater fishing license.

Licenses are available at the county tax collector’s offices and many bait and tackle shops.

Don’t expect a FWC officer to jump out from under your seagrape tree and bust you if you cast out from your waterfront home for a finning redfish, but be aware that it will be illegal after Aug. 1.

Before your fuming reaches the smoke stage, remember that the federal mandate would have been worse and that the license does go toward fishery management, maintenance and improvement.

More data is good data, as the scientists say.

More regulations

Speaking of draconian federal laws, there is some serious talk of reducing the gag grouper catch by as much as 80 percent as early as next year.

The St. Petersburg Times reports that the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council is contemplating a second restriction in as many years on the popular and tasty food fish.

Gag grouper are a nearshore species that also is found within the bays. It used to be that five gags per day per anglers were allowed, with a 30-day no-fish period to allow spawning.

Last year, regulators reduced the take to two, with a two-day closure period.

Just what will happen next year is uncertain, but a shorter fishing period and a lower number of fish caught is looming. One fisher told the St. Petersburg Times he expects the new rules to be “ghastly.”

Regulators say further restrictions are needed because the gags are overfished. That’s puzzling to many charter captains, who cite record numbers of fish out there.

Sure, the fish were stressed after the 2005 red tide outbreak. But they’ve really come back, and charter captains question the need for further restrictions.

Even Roy Crabtree of the National Marine Fisheries Service agrees. As he told the Times, bays and estuaries are teeming with juvenile gag, the biggest batch ever recorded. He said if nature cooperates and those youngsters mature into breeders in a few years, “we can get recovery on track and it can come back pretty quickly.”

Apparently the feds are basing their assessments on lower catch numbers being reported. Fewer fish caught, fewer fish out there.

Huh? That’s scientific?

What about gas prices skyrocketing, making it hard to afford to get out on the water?

What about the downward spiraling economy, making it hard for people to afford a charter to get out on the water?

What about the fact that gag grouper are a wily fish that tends to move from rock ledge to artificial reef to bay to avoid those fishers targeting them out on the water?

And with all those snapper restrictions in place, there seems to be a slew of snapper haunting the same spots that gags love. Snapper live higher in the food column than gags, so any bait that’s dropped often is snatched by a mangrove snapper before it can get down to where the gags are hunkered.

The council meets next month. If it takes any action, it would be about a year before any regulations could take place.

Irony?

Depending on who you talk to, fish stocks are collapsing or rebounding.

It’s overfishing.

It’s pollution.

Heck, some even say it’s all the fault of global warming.

But there’s some hard facts that are now whimsical, and that is that our bays are getting better and better as time goes by.

Despite population booms that spur more shoreline development — well, maybe not right now with the current economy — but historic pristine shores have been dredged and filled in the past 50 years along Southwest Florida.

The dredge-and-fill action has reduced habitat for fish and other living creatures. No place to live, no critters.

And the living creatures perished. Then.

Now we’ve come a long, long way.

Thanks to the help of a lot of people and organizations, and the assistance of new technology blending in old-school thought, we’ve seen a resurgence of habitat despite the hardened shores in our bays.

Artificial reefs have flourished in the Anna Maria Sound/Sarasota Bay region. There are at least 40 manmade reefs in our region, and no matter if they’re made of rubble or old ships or those cool reef balls — think of them as condos for fish, with all the holes and cubbies for hiding and living — they protect and attract fish.

Local environmental organizations, in cooperation with various governmental agencies, are expanding the reefs.

Plans are in the works to begin to fully map the reefs as well to determine their exact size and density, too, to help determine where and if any “infill” is needed to close up any gaps within reef coverage.

Seagrass beds in the whole Sarasota Bay system have grown as well. Seagrass coverage has increased by 4,040 acres since 1988 and continuous seagrass coverage has increase by more than 5,158 acres. Those numbers represent a 47-percent hike in seagrasses from 1988 levels.

The increase is due to better water quality, the result of better management of both stormwater runoff and treated sewage effluent flow into the bays.

And scallops are reappearing in the bays, not only locally but along most of the west coast of Florida. The study concluded.

“On the whole, statewide scallop populations were both more abundant and widespread in 2008. St. Andrew Bay and Pine Island Sound were the only two sites classified as collapsed and remain areas of concern.”

As an aside, that is indeed a concern, because both estuaries have lush seagrass beds and clear water. Just why there are no scallops found in their favorite habit is a puzzle.

So if our bays are getting so clear, why so many fishing restrictions?

Could it be that the federal regulators, who waffled so long on implementing reasonable and responsible restrictions on gillnet fishing to the point that the whole fishery was legislated out of existence, are overreacting to a twitch in take?

Go figure.

Sandscript factoid

It is estimated that about 100 miles of once-pristine shoreline in the Sarasota Bay region have been hardened with seawalls since the 1950s.

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