If you regularly bottom fish in the Gulf of Mexico, I have a question for you: How many red grouper are you seeing lately compared to what you saw a few years ago?
According to federal fisheries regulators, you should be seeing a lot fewer of these fish. Their data says that in 2017, Gulf of Mexico red grouper landings were the lowest they had been in recent years. They also say that public testimony from Gulf fishermen indicated they observed fewer legal-sized red grouper, suggesting a declining population.
They apparently believe that it’s been a fairly radical decline. Those of you who were here in 2004-2005 may remember a massive red tide superbloom that killed off a lot of fish in the open Gulf. That bloom was blamed for killing off 34 percent of the entire red grouper population, and the feds are now saying they think last year’s outbreak was just as bad.
Of course, regulators have only one tool in the box when they think fish populations are dropping: Kill fewer fish. Usually they modify bag or size limits to do this, or enact seasonal closures. In this case, they’ve oddly opted to skip that and just lower the overall quota Gulf anglers are allowed to bring home.
This quota consists of two numbers: The annual catch limit (ACL), which is the amount of fish we can take without having a negative effect on the health of the population, and the annual catch target (ACT), which is the amount we can take before they tell us to stop. There are two numbers because there are always anglers who don’t find out about emergency closures or who overharvest anyway.
Both the ACL and the ACT have been lowered by a whole lot. The 2018 ACL for recreational anglers was 2.58 million pounds (gutted weight), and the ACT was 2.37 million pounds. Sounds like a lot, but if the average red grouper weighs 6 pounds gutted, that’s less than 1,100 fish per day — for the entire Gulf of Mexico.
For 2019 and 2020, the ACL is 1 million pounds and the ACT is 0.92 million pounds — 420 fish per day, to be shared among all Gulf fishermen. Wow.
Some of my more alert readers might have noticed that the feds are pronouncing this dramatic scale-back of allowed harvest with the year mostly over. Yeah, they do things like that sometimes. This change was announced in early October and went into effect Oct. 31. But, no worries: They say we’re catching so few of these fish that it won’t matter. There won’t be any need for an emergency closed season this year.
So, back to the question: How has your red grouper bite been? I really want to know, because these numbers that federal regulators are throwing up seem incredible to me. I mean that in the literal sense of the word, as in “that which cannot be believed.”
Can you guys help me understand this a little better?
Contact Capt. Josh Olive at 941-276-9657 or Publisher@WaterLineWeekly.com.