Lower catch limits on hogfish start Aug. 24

A chart shows a new hogfish zone covering the Florida Keys and the state’s east coast. New rules take effect Aug. 24.
A chart shows a new hogfish zone covering the Florida Keys and the state’s east coast. New rules take effect Aug. 24.

The demand for hogfish may be high, but catch limits on the popular food fish are about to drop significantly.

Effective Aug. 24, state and federal waters around the Florida Keys impose a daily limit of one hogfish for recreational harvesters in a new regional zone.

Five hogfish per day has been the limit.

“Hogfish is overfished and undergoing overfishing in the Florida Keys and east Florida,” says a bulletin from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. “Federal law requires the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council to end overfishing immediately and implement a 10-year rebuilding plan.”

“We will start enforcing the rules on Aug. 24,” said Officer Bobby Dube, spokesman for the FWC in the Keys. “The agencies have been talking about this change for a while, but now it’s the law.”

Recreational spearfishers campaigned for at least a three-fish hogfish limit but were unsuccessful. Recreational fishing and spearing for hogfish in the Atlantic ends Oct. 31, and reopens May 1.

“This was not an easy decision but will help balance the species’ needs while still offering opportunities for anglers,” FWC Chairman Brian Yablonski said after the state agency’s November vote in favor of new rules.

Hogfish, a member of the wrasse family, also must be at least 16 inches in fork length, an increase of 4 inches, when taken from Atlantic Ocean waters around the Florida Keys.

In the Gulf of Mexico jurisdiction, beginning around Cape Sable, the hogfish size limit goes from 12 to 14 inches.

Licensed commercial harvesters have a daily 25-pound limit of hogfish, and must abide by the larger fish sizes.

The Keys and Florida east coast hogfish have been identified by fishery researchers as a distinct population. Biologists determined hogfish along the Keys and southeast Florida transition from female to male at a smaller size than Gulf hogfish.

“This is likely due to harvesters removing the larger males,” a report says. “Assessing hogfish as a single stock in 2004 masked the poor status of hogfish in the Keys and East Florida.”

Kevin Wadlow: 305-440-3206