Capt. Josh:

I just subscribed to the Venice Gondolier solely to get WaterLine, which before now a friend has been sharing with me. I have learned plenty, but not enough yet, from your columns about so many things, being a new Gulf coast angler since 2011. Proper fish handling, and I know you are a religious study about the pictures sent in, ensuring the catch complies with regs is properly held, etc. So just a nit, and I could be wrong, but the guy with the cute baby Goliath, (July 9, page 8), appears out of compliance with FWC regs (the way I read them). He could bring it aboard for de-hooking, but not for photos. Thanks for the great publication.

— John K., Venice

John:

When social media became a thing, suddenly a huge multitude of local anglers were sharing pictures of their catches not just with friends and family but with the world at large. While that did (and does) a great job of spreading Florida fishing fever far and wide, it also had an unintended side effect: Folks posing with fish they were not allowed to keep found themselves posting potential evidence of (almost always unintended) criminal acts.

Regulators were stymied for a minute. They had never really intended for fishermen to be cited just for taking pictures of what they caught, but the letter of the law seemed to make such actions illegal if the fish couldn’t be harvested. Whether it was a Goliath grouper, which can’t be legally harvested at all, or any fish out of season or over the slot limit, braggin’ pics were for outlaws.

In 2013, the FWC sought to rectify that by adding a clause to the administrative code (68B-2.002), which specifies that you are allowed to “temporarily possess an organism for purposes of identifying the species, photographing, or determining compliance with applicable regulations.” The law also states that if the fish isn’t allowed to be legally harvested, it must be immediately released unharmed. Note this applies to marine organisms only; you can’t go out catching scrub jays and gopher tortoises for photos.

So now we are able to take pictures of our catches without fear of self-incrimination. Whether it’s a species that you can’t harvest at all (Goliaths, sawfish, bonefish, certain shark species), one that’s out of season (right now, trout, snook and redfish), or a fish that’s too small or too big to legally take, you can still have your trophy photo.

Now, that does come with certain restrictions, which are in support of the “return unharmed” section of the law. You can’t take a tarpon more than 40 inches long out of the water. You can’t remove any fish from the water if the simple act of doing so will harm it, which is why I’ll publish a photo of a juvenile Goliath in your hands but not a 100-pounder. You can’t “place or deposit” any fish that can’t be harvested “on any bank, shore, beach or other place out of the water” — in other words, you have to hold it.

I really enjoy seeing reader photos, and I’m happy that so many people choose to share their catches with WaterLine readers. But I put the photo rules in place because so many people look to those pictures as examples of how to handle fish. It bums me out when I have to reject a pic of a 40-inch snook or big tarpon or lemon shark. I know they’re proud of their catch, and rightly so. But the photo can’t be more important the well-being of that fish, or of all the other fish that will end up injured or dead when people see it promoted as the proper way to handle them.

Thanks for being willing to call me out, though. I know most people get nasty about that, but I truly do appreciate it. I’ve certainly been wrong before, and I am grateful when someone tells me before I make the same mistake again. Send me your address; I’ve got a WaterLine cap for you.

Contact Capt. Josh Olive at 941-276-9657 or Publisher@WaterLineWeekly.com.

Contact Capt. Josh Olive at 941-276-9657 or Publisher@
WaterLineWeekly.com.

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