gag grouper

WaterLine file photo

Gag grouper are on the list of species that require participation the Gulf Reef Fish Survey to legally harvest.

Last week, we ran a press release from the FWC about three weekends open for red snapper fishing this month. In that release, FWC Chairman Robert Spottswood mentioned a state program that I’ve heard a lot of complaints about.

“These additional days would not be possible without the Gulf Reef Fish Survey,” said Spottswood. “Thank you to every angler who has taken the time to return surveys, talk to staff and participate in this program. Innovative data collection is opening doors and allowing unprecedented management opportunities for Florida, benefiting Gulf anglers.”

For those of you who haven’t been paying attention: Since April 2015, recreational anglers who fish from private boats on the Gulf coast of Florida have been asked to sign up for the Gulf Reef Fish Survey. Signing up is required to legally harvest certain reef species, specifically red and vermilion snapper; gag, black and red grouper; gray triggerfish; and any amberjack species.

Any time you purchase a Florida saltwater fishing license, there’s a prompt to sign up for the survey. It’s a no-cost add-on to your license. However, many retailers that sell licenses routinely skip over the question. They do this because, although it is required to harvest the above-mentioned species, there’s no penalty attached. If you are caught with grouper but aren’t registered for the survey, there’s no fine. They simply make you sign up on the spot.

Many people are not even aware of this requirement, both because tackle shops fail to tell them and also because the survey is mandatory even for residents over the age of 65 who don’t need a fishing license. In a brief, informal survey of customers at a local tackle shop, more than half had no idea what I was talking about (although a couple of those who claimed ignorance did have it on their fishing licenses).

The survey sounds like a hassle to a lot of anglers, but I’ve been registered for four years and not contacted a single time. Here’s how FWC says it’s supposed to work:

“Signing up for the survey makes you eligible to be contacted by FWC for the purpose of collecting information about your fishing activity. Between 5 and 10 percent of all anglers signed up as a Gulf reef fish angler will be selected each month to receive a questionnaire in the mail. For your convenience, a self-addressed postage-paid envelope will be included in the mail packet you receive. The questionnaire will be mailed to your residence and should only take a few minutes to fill out.”

Now, why is it worth it? Well, go back to Spottswood’s statement. When fisheries regulators are able to collect high-quality data directly from the source (that would be us, y’all), they can and will use that data to manage our fish stocks better. A lot of people think it’s just about closing seasons down or setting smaller bag limits — but it’s also about allowing us to go collect the rest of our quota if it wasn’t caught, as was the case this year due to some unfriendly weather during the regular red snapper season.

Help them make better decisions: Sign up for the survey. You can register online at It’s easy, it’s free, and it’s good for Florida’s fisheries.

Contact Capt. Josh Olive at 941-276-9657 or

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


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