The dreaded month of September has arrived. Well, it’s dreaded if you’re in a business that’s seasonal, and of course that includes most businesses in Southwest Florida.
Lots of factors combine during September to make it a quiet month. Summer vacationers are mostly gone now as their kids are back in school. Just about all the European tourists are back on their side of the Atlantic Ocean. Part-year residents and seasonal tourists haven’t started trickling in yet. And a lot of our year round residents have given up on fighting the heat after a long, hot summer and have retreated into their air conditioning until temperatures break next month.
The result: Things are pretty quiet on the roads and on the water.
There are advantages to being here in slow season. Waiting in your car through more than one traffic light cycle is rare. You can sometimes park under cover at Home Depot. You can eat at your favorite restaurant without having to bribe the hostess to get your wait time under an hour. (Unless the restaurant pulls a dirty trick by closing the doors for a slow-season vacation. That makes me mad.)
There are empty parking spaces for trailer rigs at most boat ramps most of the time. There is probably not going to be an early-morning line of bucket-carrying customers waiting for the bait shop to open its doors. If your boat needs professional attention, the service technicians will most likely be able to get ‘er done relatively quickly, as opposed to peak winter busy season when dropping your boat at the shop might be the last time you see your rig for weeks.
And there are probably fewer boats on local waters than in any other month. You might not be alone out there, but the odds of finding someone sitting on “your” spot are fairly slim. If you find a pod of tarpon in the Harbor or a surface-feeding school of Spanish mackerel around the passes, you just might have them to yourself.
Offshore it’s even better. You can run to a wreck or artificial reef 30 miles offshore and might not find five other boats there when you arrive. And if you set up on your favorite little piece of offshore hard bottom, there probably won’t be many other boats snooping around to snipe your spot. So maybe September isn’t so dreadful.
Feds eye mangrove snapper
The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council has been looking at grey snapper (we usually call them mangrove snapper) for a couple of years. At the August meeting, the council took some housekeeping steps which indicate that we could soon be seeing modifications in fishing regulations that have been unchanged for decades.
Mangrove snapper landings in the Gulf are approximately 90 percent recreational, with a relatively small commercial fishery harvesting only about 10 percent of the annual catch. Over the last couple decades, the total landings per year have varied wildly from just under a million pounds to around 2.4 million pounds.
The Gulf council just established an annual catch limit for mangrove snapper of 2.24 million pounds, a number that has been exceeded six times since 2001 — most recently in 2014 and 2016.
Should we be concerned? Maybe. When the ACL is exceeded, the council may act to restrain the fishery by enacting lower size limits, lower bag limits, closed seasons, or any combination of them. Of course, these federal regulations apply to Gulf federal waters and not in the estuaries — but if the Gulf Council changes fishing regulations, then there is pressure for the FWC to make changes in adjacent Florida state waters.
Mangrove snapper are already in a somewhat unusual status, as one of few fish with long-standing significant differences between state and federal regulations. Size limit in Florida waters is only 10 inches, while in adjacent federal waters it’s 12 inches. Bag limit in state waters is five fish per person (as part of a 10 snapper aggregate bag limit) while in federal waters all 10 of your snapper aggregate bag limit can be mangrove snapper.
How this confusing medley of restrictions might be affected if the Gulf Council changes the federal limits is anyone’s guess, but it does appear possible that there will be changes on the horizon. Stay tuned.
Let’s go fishing!
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.