Spearfishers should think twice before taking a shot at a hogfish on the Florida Keys reef tract.
Hogfish now are off-limits to all harvest in federal waters because recreational and commercial annual catch limits have been reached, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council cautions.
That means hogfish swimming at most Keys reefs more than three nautical miles from shore probably are protected from recreational harvest until May 2018.
However, Florida state waters in the Atlantic Ocean remain open to recreational harvest, subject to the new one-per-day hogfish limit and a 16-inch size limit in the new Florida Keys-East Florida hogfish zone.
Commercial fishing for hogfish, a type of wrasse, now is closed in both state and federal waters around the Keys, including the Gulf of Mexico.
Fishery agencies issued clarifications this week since the new slate of hogfish rules that took effect Thursday set a recreational harvest season in the Keys-Florida East zone from May 1 through Oct. 31.
“We have received some calls because of the confusion,” said Amanda Nalley, information officer for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. “We want to make sure folks are aware that hogfish is closed commercially in both state and federal waters, and to call attention to the new bag and size limits.”
The South Atlantic federal council, which adopted the same May-through-October recreational season, have imposed an immediate hogfish closure under Annual Catch Limit rules. Both the 2017 federal commercial limit of 3,510 pounds of hogfish and recreational limit of 15,689 hogfish were “projected to have been reached” by mid-May, council staff says.
“Accountability measures [say] commercial and recreational harvest should close to prevent the catch limits from being exceeded,” the federal council says. “The closures did not occur before Aug. 24, 2017, because the final rule was not yet effective.”
Some Key West reefs may lie in state water because of a boundary bubble that extends father into the Atlantic to include Sand Key. Generally, Florida state waters extend from shore to three nautical miles on the Atlantic, and from shore to nine nautical miles on the Gulf of Mexico. An east-west line off Cape Sable now separates the Gulf of Mexico hogfish stock from the Keys-East Coast stock.
Commercial hogfish harvests open on Jan. 1 in federal waters until the 2018 commercial catch limit of 4,524 pounds whole weight is reached.
The federal recreational hogfish catch limit for the Keys-East Florida zone is 18,617 fish in the open season. Annual catch limits will be raised annually for a decade.
FWC board members, meeting Sept. 27 and 28 in Okeechobee, likely will have a hogfish item on the Sept. 28 agenda. The meeting agenda has not been finalized.
For more on current hogfish rules, see MyFWC.com or SAFMC.net.
Kevin Wadlow: 305-440-3206