Barracuda slot limit passes first vote by FWC

A plan to protect juvenile barracuda and big barracuda passed its first vote by Florida fishery managers Thursday.

“Staff has done a great job accommodating so many stakeholders” interested in the barracuda, said Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission board member Robert Spottswood of Key West.

The FWC board endorsed a 15- to 36-inch slot limit on barracuda, with one barracuda per boat allowed over the maximum size. No commissioners opposed the draft regulation at their session near Apalachicola.

As proposed, juvenile barracuda below 15 inches would be protected from harvest, with the one-fish rule limiting the take of large sexually mature barracuda.

“That conserves those large spawners once they make it through the slot," said Marine Fisheries Management section leader Melissa Recks. "Not only are they important for the spawn, they're an exciting catch-and-release fish and highly valued by Florida's recreational dive industry.”

Since the pending rule affects only South Florida waters, a final vote is scheduled for the FWC's November meeting in St. Petersburg.

Three of the five commenters on the barracuda rule traveled to the Panhandle meeting from the Keys to speak. Brooke Black, a Keys representative of the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust, urged the commission to shrink the slot size to protect more barracuda. “

“We would argue the population isn't healthy enough to sustain such a wide slot limit of 21 inches,” said Black, preferring a 20- to 30-inch slot size.

Don DeMaria, a Lower Keys commercial fisherman and conservationist, said allowing small barracuda above the 15-inch limit to be harvested as a food fish is a bad idea since consumed barracuda are known to sometimes cause ciguatera food poisoning. “I’ve never seen barracuda on a menu,” DeMaria said. “It’s not a good fish to eat in the Keys.”

Richard Gomez of the Key West Charter Boat Association said the group considers the ability to harvest one big barracuda as essential, mostly for anglers who want to order a mount. “Yes, fishermen make extra money when they mount a fish,” he said. “We’ve already lost other ways to make extra income” by selling fish caught aboard charters.

Snook and Gamefish Foundation representative Brett Fitzgerald said the group would prefer tighter barracuda rules, but without a stock assessment of the species, “realistically, we’re doing the best we can.”

Under rules adopted last year, South Florida harvesters are limited to two barracuda per day with a six-fish boat limit due to concern over lower numbers of barracuda.

Kevin Wadlow: 305-440-3206