gag grouper

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Glen Pooley with a 25.5-inch gag caught 15 miles out of Venice. Offshore anglers have a tough row to hoe keeping up with constant regulations changes from multiple agencies.

Kermit the Frog sings a well-known song titled “It’s Not Easy Being Green,” in which he laments the difficulty he faces living life while sporting the same hue as do leaves on trees. Southwest Florida’s anglers could pen a similar song titled “It’s Not Easy Being Legal,” as it seems to grow harder and harder to keep up with fishing regulations being thrown at us from all directions by a bevy of government agencies.

The latest wrinkle in fishing regulations for Gulf anglers comes to us courtesy of the U.S. Senate, where a bill was filed in Washington a few weeks ago which would require anglers in the Gulf to carry venting tools or descending devices aboard their boats while fishing for reef fish in federal waters. This well-intentioned effort addresses a perceived need in the fishery and actually reinstates a regulation that used to exist, but attempting to implement it through the Congress sets a bad precedent.

Congress delegated federal fishery management to NOAA via the Magnuson-Stevens Act way back in 1976. The MSA established the federal fishery management council system. Sadly it’s too easy to argue that the council system has been ineffective in managing recreational fisheries.

The system is cumbersome and is so slow to react to fishery issues that regulations often lag years behind changes in the fisheries. And the recent move by the Gulf Council to delegate partial control of the red snapper fishery to the Gulf states is arguably a result of the Council’s inability to effectively manage that hugely popular and extremely controversial fishery.

The problems with the broken council system should be resolved by the U.S. Congress, the only organization that can do it. It is not a good idea for Congress to bypass the system by lobbing regulations at fishermen that are separate from those produced by the councils. This serves to further confuse things for anglers that are already struggling to keep up with regulations that seem to be coming from all directions.

How bad is the current situation for a diligent angler who wants to be sure that he’s fishing legally? It’s pretty tough. There is no single place that an angler can go to find all the fishing regulations that might come into play, and this is not limited just to federal regulations.

For example, did you know that in most of the City of Punta Gorda that it’s illegal to have striped mullet on your boat between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. during the months of November, December, January and February? What? That’s right, this rule which was designed to restrict commercial fishermen from night fishing in the canals during mullet run season also means that having finger mullet in your bait tank or having chunks of mullet aboard for cut bait could get you a ticket.

Don’t believe it? Look it up. But be forewarned, this information is not easy to find. Here are some clues: Details cannot be found in the FWC’s saltwater fishing regulations booklet, but if you are diligent in searching through the FWC website at MyFWC.com, you can find it there.

(Editor’s note: If you diligently comb through WaterLine’s fishing regulations page, this information is there as well.)

It’s tough to keep track of fishing regulations in federal waters of the Gulf too. The Gulf Council creates most of the regulations which control fishing in the federal waters of the Gulf — but not all of them.

For example, Florida laws on some fish are extended beyond state waters and on out into federal waters. Snook are a good example of fish for which Florida state regulations also apply in adjacent federal waters, and yes, some snook are caught offshore. An angler who scanned the Gulf Council’s fishing regulations would find no mention of snook anywhere in those regulations and would probably think that snook are not regulated in federal waters. That could be a costly mistake.

And that diligent angler who researched the Gulf Council’s regulations before going fishing would also find that there are no shark regulations in those regs either. But guess what: NOAA regulates sharks, billfish and tunas — the so-called highly migratory species — separately from other fish, without going through the council system at all. Check this link to see: http://bit.ly/2RhjCSF.

It’s already hard enough to stay legal while fishing in coastal waters. If the U.S. Congress makes a habit of legislating fishing regulations, then fishing will become even more difficult. My suggestion would be that the Congressmen who filed that legislation withdraw it and instead concentrate on fixing the council system.

Capt. Ralph Allen runs the King Fisher Fleet of sightseeing and fishing charter boats located at Fishermen’s Village in Punta Gorda. He is an award-winning outdoor writer and photographer, and is a past president of the Florida Outdoor Writers Association. Contact him at 941-639-2628 or Captain@KingFisherFleet.com.

Capt. Ralph Allen runs the King Fisher Fleet of sightseeing and fishing charter boats located at Fishermen’s Village in Punta Gorda. He is an award-winning outdoor writer and photographer, and is a past president of the Florida Outdoor Writers Association. Contact him at 941-639-2628 or Captain@KingFisherFleet.com.

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