FWC News Release
Contact: Lee Schlesinger, (850) 487-0554
The harvest of commercial sponges by diving will be legal in parts of Northwest Florida marine waters beginning July 1.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) approved a rule Thursday to extend the area where harvest of commercial sponges is allowed by diving from west of 84 degrees west longitude, near Cabell Point on the eastern border of Jefferson County, to Cape San Blas.
The rule also specifies that all commercial sponges taken by divers must be cut rather than pulled from the sea bottom.
The commercial harvest of sponges in Florida is a historical fishery that is principally concentrated along the central Gulf of Mexico near the traditional sponge docks in Tarpon Springs and in the Florida Keys. This fishery is the source of natural sponges used for a variety of household cleaning purposes and also supports a curio trade.
Of the many species of sponges that occur in Florida, only a few are sought after by the fishery and regulated. These species are called “commercial sponges” and include the sheepswool, grass, yellow, glove, finger, wire, reef and velvet sponges.
Commercial sponges can now be legally harvested by diving in all state waters north of the southernmost point of Egmont Key, northward and westward to the 84 degrees west longitude line. They also may be harvested by diving in all state waters beyond 3 nautical miles from the shoreline south of Egmont Key to the Monroe and Collier county line.
Commercial fishers requested that state waters in the northern Gulf also be open to sponge harvest, and the FWC believes this fishery will be limited and will have negligible impacts to sponge abundance.
Current regulations specify that persons wishing to land sponges in commercial quantities must possess a valid Saltwater Products License and a valid sponge endorsement.
Legally harvestable commercial sponges must also be at least five inches in diameter, and there are areas specified where sponges may and may not be taken by diving. A daily recreational bag limit of 10 commercial sponges per day also applies, and sponging in Biscayne National Park is prohibited.