Fishery Management ...

The Good the Bad and the Ugly

Excuse me waiter, I’ll have the mechanically separated, previously frozen, hormone-infused chicken breast, please.

That’s what we’ll be ordering at our favorite restaurants one day if our fishery management groups stay on the path they’re currently on. Beginning in January, offshore anglers will no longer be able to harvest red snapper or grouper from the Atlantic’s federal waters.

And the worst part? Recreational and commercial anglers’ objections to these closures were countered with “fishy” science and statistics. Anglers and captains—many of who have been fishing off Central Florida for decades—were being told by government scientists that those bottom fish they seek have been dwindling in numbers. Try telling that to fishermen who know their waters intimately and are seeing more fish than they have in years.

Back in October I spent a day offshore Sebastian. Twenty-five miles out were shrimp boats anchored up and cleaning out their nets. Floating behind their boat was a trail of death--dead juvenile flounder, croakers, sea robins and a slew of other species--all wasted in the pursuit of rock shrimp. Hundreds of larger fish were still stuck in the nets, drying in the sun. All of this by-catch could have been food for our snapper and grouper.
As a scuba diver, I’ve seen the amazing reefs that Central Florida has to offer. I cringe at the thought of nets and chains obliterating coral, sponges and rock formations—all for a few measly shrimp.

Every year our favorite reefs and bottom areas are abused by these heavy nets which drag and dredge along the bottom, but fishermen must suffer the consequences while that industry continues to flourish.
At a recent fishery council meeting, I witnessed a long-time charter captain spill his heart to a panel of scientists who were voting in the new rules. Nearly in tears, the captain—who raised his family on the living he made as a fisherman—could not make sense of the regulations which would soon be putting him out of business. He is not alone.

There is talk now of closing down all bottom fishing. Since mortality of undersized fish brought up from the deep is extremely high, it makes sense to close it all down. Could it be that strict size regulations are actually killing more fish? If someone weeds through ten undersized red snapper to finally catch a keeper, he is actually killing eleven snapper.

Here’s an idea. We could just keep the first fish to come up, then move somewhere else. Everyone keeps a few, regardless of size then calls it a day. Zero release mortality and happy fishermen.

The current problems bring to mind the redfish issues of the past. Huge schools of bull redfish were once netted to satisfy the nation’s blackened redfish craze. Doing so nearly wiped out their populations. Eventually the fishery was closed. Recreational fishermen could keep a few, but they were not to be commercially sold—they were given “game fish” status. Why not do this with our grouper and snapper?

I am an outdoorsman. I care about the places I hunt and fish, so I want to see them healthy and thriving. But I also enjoy knowing where my food comes from and I like being able to go out and get it myself.
OKAY! Enough of the political bs. Let’s talk fishing.

My brother and I got out last week, December 15th, on one of the days between the cold fronts. The bottom fishing was going off in 80-90 feet off Sebastian. Using live sardines, blue runners, octopus and cut fish we pulled in five mutton snapper up to 8 pounds, some 20” yellow tail snappers, three nice kingfish around twenty pounds each, some short gag and red grouper, and a slew of triggerfish and smaller snappers. It was definitely going off.

Inlet fishing has been good for flounder, especially on the first day of a cold front that sweeps through. Those blasts of cold really seem to get them fired up. I’ve been throwing jigs and small baits down there and I’ve only been catching small flounder…go figure. All the old timers and regulars down there who are using live mullet are doing great on some big doormats. Just gotta put your time in and be there when it’s on. Tide changes seem to be the best.

Seatrout are out of season right now, but you can bet they’re biting good on the flats. Wait until the sun rises a bit and fish the potholes and waist deep areas where they’ll concentrate. If I’m fishing down south around Sebastian, I like to fish around the tides. A high or incoming tide is always most productive, so pick up a tide chart at your surf shop or bait stop and plan accordingly. I like to use jerkbaits in red/white, funky chicken, or blue/silver.

Surf fishing is going good also. I’m actually headed out to the beach when I’m done writing this New Year’s fishing report. The pompano are hitting clams and sandfleas anywhere from Sebastian to Cocoa. They don’t seem to mind the dirty water lately or the rough seas, which I was surprised to see. Gotta use a little heavier sinkers, but fishing in blustery weather is a fair trade-off for some tasty pomps.

Well, until next tide…
Matt Badolato

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