Sandbar shark

WaterLine file photo by Capt. Josh Olive

This sandbar shark was caught and released using (unintentionally) illegal bait.

Have you ever broken the law with your choice of bait? I know I have, and I’d be willing to bet that a whole lot of other local anglers have also been guilty — maybe even you. Of course, I didn’t do it on purpose, and you probably didn’t either. In most cases, it’s simple ignorance.

In my case, the problem was that I didn’t read the law. Instead, I relied on what other people told me the law was. Not a good plan. And because I thought I knew what was legal, I broke that law repeatedly.

Many people know that Spanish mackerel make good bait for shark fishing. It’s true; sharks love them. What I’d been told was that mackerel had to be landed ashore in whole condition, but once that had been accomplished, it was OK to use them as cutbait. Turns out that’s not exactly accurate. Here’s the actual law:

Florida Administrative Code 68B-23.003 | Landed in Whole Condition Requirement – A person harvesting Spanish mackerel shall land each Spanish mackerel in whole condition. A person may not possess in or on Florida Waters, on any public or private fishing pier, on a bridge or catwalk attached to a bridge from which fishing is allowed, or on any jetty, a Spanish mackerel that has been beheaded, sliced, divided, filleted, ground, skinned, scaled, or deboned. This provision will not be construed to prohibit the evisceration (gutting) of a Spanish mackerel or removal of gills from a Spanish mackerel.

My butterflied mackerel were definitely not legal. Nor were the chunked mackerel that I used during a redfish tournament several years back. This is a great illustration of why you should always go back to original sources when possible, since I had heard this argued many ways in the tackle shops and by charter captains. But when you read the actual law, it’s pretty plain.

Some might argue it’s a pointless law. However, there’s a good reason for it. You’ll find this same language used throughout 68B in the sections referring to just about every species that has a size limit. Why? Well, let’s think like a poacher.

If I wanted to harvest undersize fish and not get caught, it might occur to me to fillet them at sea. Were I to get checked at the ramp — well, there aren’t any shorts here. Just a pile of fillets.

Of course, it’s hardly a perfect law. There are many fish that this restriction doesn’t apply to. For example, I can go out to the reef and start filleting grunts and porgies at sea. It’s perfectly legal. If I skin my fillets, do you think you’d be able to tell whether they’re from a grunt or a snapper? Even with lots of experience, I doubt you can be 100 percent sure.

As with so many other regulations, this one is really only as good as the people who are following it. There are ways around just about any rule, if you’re bound and determined to be a rulebreaker.

For myself, I kept strictly to using legal mackerel for bait. I never kept undersized fish, and I was always careful to not go over my bag limit. Even so, what I was doing was illegal, and I feel pretty stupid about that because I always try to be clear on what the law does and does not allow.

But because of that situation, I’ve learned to always go back to the written source when I want to know what the law says. Not my neighbor, not a charter guide, not some dude at the tackle shop, not a magazine columnist, not even an FWC officer (they are wrong about the details far more often than you might expect).

If you find yourself with some spare time and would like to do a little light reading, you can go check out some of the 68B rules for yourself at https://bit.ly/3PLiN56. The plot is a little thin, but there are certainly some interesting details.

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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