Redfish is popular in Florida and an ambitious program to overhaul the state’s redfish management received approval by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) ahead of a final vote later this year.
The changes come after what agency staff call intensive public engagement — including last year’s inaugural Redfish Summit — and the agency’s first-ever redfish evaluation within all management regions using their six management metrics.
The new rule would reorganize redfish management regions from three to nine, though Northeast Florida remains the same, going from Nassau County in the north to Volusia County in the south. Redfish abundance and fishing success is better the further north you go, fishers reported to FWC.
“We hear a lot about ‘redfish in my area, redfish in my area,’” FWC section leader Erika Burgess said to Commissioners at their meetings this week in Gainesville. “Anglers really care about what’s happening in their backyard, and this management approach will help us address those concerns.
“The proposed rules presented today are based on our holistic approach to management that we rolled out in March. Each year, we’re going to be reviewing the fishery with these metrics, and each time we do that, if the signs indicate a real change, we will be coming back to you with recommended rules.”
As the stock’s better in the Northeast, Panhandle and Big Bend, the eight-fish vessel limit is only reduced to four fish instead of two, which is the case in other regions.
Climate change is having an impact here as mangroves move north and replace other plants. Mangrove swamps and salt marsh accomplish many of the same things, including being essential to the development of many marine creatures, redfish among them.
There was a 1% decrease in salt marsh acreage from 2009 to 2014 in Northeast Florida, but a 17.4% increase in mangrove swamps. From 1990 to 2014, there was a 10.3% drop in marsh acreage at the same time as an extraordinary 73,475% increase in mangroves in the region.
The vessel limit is reduced to two fish in all the other regions — Tampa Bay, Sarasota Bay, Charlotte Harbor, Southwest and Southeast. Meanwhile, it’s catch-and-release only for the Indian River Lagoon region.
The new regulations also prohibit captain and crew from retaining a bag limit when on a for-hire trip and reduce the off-the-water transport limit from six to four fish per person. The bag limit for Big Bend fishers went up, though, from one to two fish per person.
“We would like to see that (Big Bend limit) stay at one fish per person,” said Trip Aukeman, Coastal Conservation Association Florida’s Director of Advocacy. “Back in 2011, 2012, when we did the change back then, I think we were at 50% escapement rate. Now we’re at a 48% escapement rate, so we’re worried the same thing’s going to happen in the Big Bend, we’re going to see a downturn in the redfish.”
Mike Sole, who recently left the Commission, was a driving force behind the redfish overhaul and received many thanks in his absence from current Commissioners and members of the public.
FWC staff intend to continue soliciting public input on the proposed rules, with 12 in-person workshops scheduled before the Commission’s next meeting in July.
“With this new management approach, this agency is committed to continuing to work with our partners and stakeholders in finding solutions for redfish,” FWC Chairman Rodney Barreto said in a statement.
Feedback received before the July meetings could change the look and effect of the rules when they go back to the Commission for consideration.