I was talking with one of our local charter captains this past week about the tripletail bite in the Gulf. He said it had been pretty good if you were out real early, but lousy later in the day after everybody had driven by and thrown baits at their heads. On his last trip, he said he’d headed out while it was still dark to ensure a limit of six for his two anglers.
I said, “But captain, the limit is two per person. Two times two is four, not six.” He agreed the math was right, but then told me he always catches his own limit when he can and gives them to his clients. He expressed reservations about doing that, but feels like he has little choice. “They expect it,” he said. “And I have to do it, because if I don’t then they’ll go with another captain who will.”
He might be right. There are a lot of folks who hire a charter with the idea of filling a freezer, and they want to keep as many fish as possible. I can see that he’s got a tough dilemma — but it’s one that the FWC could easily solve for him.
There are a few species of fish that our regulators already regard as too valuable for this common practice. For those fish, the FWC has a little side note in the rules — there’s a zero bag limit for the captain and crew of a for-hire vessel while under charter. The list is short: Snook, permit, red snapper, gag, black grouper and red grouper. When the new speckled trout rules go into effect next year, they’ll be added to the list.
But why is there a list at all? Shouldn’t that be the baseline position? Let’s be honest here. Whatever fish a guide harvests “for himself” on a trip are almost certainly going home with his clients. By allowing guides to keep their own bag limit of fish on a trip, what we’re effectively saying is that anglers on charters get a higher bag limit.
Is that the way it should be? Doesn’t seem fair to me, especially when a lot of everyday anglers have a hard time putting any fish in the box.
Furthermore, the practice leads to many guides breaking the law by taking double bag limits. If I go out in the morning and catch a limit of fish, stash them in a cooler in the truck, and then go back out and get another limit — well, that’s poaching, and it’s not legal. It’s a daily bag limit, after all.
But for a lot of guides, it’s just business as usual. They’ll take their limit of trout or sheepshead with their morning anglers, and then do the same on their afternoon trip. Who’s checking? How would they get caught anyway? It’s not like they have any fish for an officer to count — they’ve all been filleted, bagged and gone home with the clients.
Having a standard zero bag for captains and crew would eliminate these problems, and it would also put every guide on an even footing as far as keeping fish for clients — as in, no one would be able to. (Of course there would be some poachers. Hopefully they’d get caught. If it were up to me, we’d confiscate some boats.)
It also would add some fairness back to our current system. As it is now, if you can afford to pay for a guide’s expert assistance — which means you’re more likely to catch fish — you also are basically entitled to take more fish home. This is plainly and obviously unfair to the majority of fishermen.
There would be a few kinks to work out, such as when a guide goes out to catch bait mullet (bag limit 50) for his clients ahead of a trip. But these can be easily resolved so hardworking and law-abiding charter captains can remain that way.
How about it, FWC? I believe the commissioners already know it’s the right thing to do, which is why it’s happening with trout. But why do it piecemeal? It would be far simpler to just add a blanket rule with whatever exceptions are necessary than to add “zero bag” wording to every individual species as the rules get updated. Now is the time.
Contact Capt. Josh Olive at 941-276-9657 or Publisher@WaterLineWeekly.com.