In 2020, fishery managers received a new cobia stock assessment showing the Gulf of Mexico group was overfished and had been for 45 years.
A new rule passed this week by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission looks to do something about that.
The cobia that swim off Florida’s coasts — for the most part — is a Gulf of Mexico group that’s distinct from the Atlantic group. The dividing line for these groups is the St. Marys River on the Florida-Georgia border, so the “Gulf group” also occupies Florida’s Atlantic Coast.
“Last year, both (the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic fishery management) councils took action to reduce harvest by 33%, and this included modifying size, bag and vessel limits for all harvesters,” FWC biological scientist Kristin Foss said to Commissioners at their meetings in Gainesville. “Because of cobia’s stock status, consistent changes are needed in state waters to end overfishing, improve stock abundance and ensure future fishing opportunities.”
The new rule increases the maximum size limit from 33 to 36 inches fork length for all state waters, reduces the commercial bag limit from two to one fish per harvester per day in Atlantic state waters, and reduces the recreational and commercial vessel limit from six to two fish per vessel per day in Atlantic state waters.
The Gulf group is primarily a recreational fishery, but harvest has declined over the past 10 years. Combined recreational and commercial harvest was close to six million pounds in 2011, but it dropped gradually over the years to fewer than two million pounds in 2021. Around 80 percent of all Gulf group cobia is harvested off of Florida coasts, and most of that is in state waters closer to shore.
The new rule also brings Florida in line with cobia regulations pending for federal waters.
Sometimes new fishery rules rile up people, and sometimes people are generally ready to fish within the new standards. This was one of the latter.
“Just wanted to say that (the Coastal Conservation Association) is OK with going consistent with these rules, and thank you very much,” said Trip Aukeman, CCA Florida Director of Advocacy.
The measures also received support from the American Sportfishing Association.