FWC News Release
Contact: Lee Schlesinger, 850-487-0554

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) on Thursday approved changes to management rules for red snapper harvested in Gulf of Mexico state waters. The FWC also approved new rules that will require all commercial and recreational anglers fishing for any Gulf reef fish species to use circle hooks, dehooking devices and venting tools.

These new rules are similar to recently implemented red snapper regulations in Gulf federal waters that are intended to end overfishing of red snapper in the Gulf and reduce release mortality of Gulf reef fish.

The new rules reduce the daily recreational bag limit for red snapper from four fish to two fish per person and establish a zero daily bag limit for captains and crew of for-hire vessels in all Gulf waters off Florida’s coast.

No change will be made to the April 15 through Oct. 31 Gulf recreational red snapper harvest season in state waters. However, new federal rules establish a June 1 through Sept. 30 recreational harvest season in Gulf federal waters adjacent to Florida waters.

Other new FWC rules reduce the minimum size for commercially harvested red snapper in the Gulf and for imported red snapper from 15 to 13 inches total length, and reduce the daily commercial bag and trip limit for red snapper harvested in Gulf state waters off Florida from four fish to two fish daily per person.

The new rules also require fishers on all vessels in the Gulf reef fish fishery to possess and use certain gear, including non-stainless steel circle hooks that must be possessed aboard a vessel and used to harvest any Gulf reef fish when natural baits are used. A circle hook is a fishing hook designed and manufactured so that the point is turned perpendicularly back to the shank to form a generally circular or oval shape.

At least one dehooking device is required as well and must be used to remove hooks embedded in Gulf reef fish with minimum damage. The dehooking device must be constructed to allow the hook to be secured and the barb shielded without re-engaging during the removal process. It must be blunt and all edges rounded, and it must be of a size appropriate to secure the range of hook sizes and styles used in the Gulf reef fish fishery.

At least one venting tool is also required and must be used to deflate the swimbladders of Gulf reef fish to help release the fish with minimum damage. This tool must be a sharpened, hollow instrument, such as a hypodermic syringe with the plunger removed or a 16-gauge needle fixed to a hollow wooden dowel. A tool such as a knife or an ice-pick may not be used. The venting tool must be inserted into the fish at a 45-degree angle approximately 1 to 2 inches from the base of the pectoral fin and be inserted just deep enough to release the gases so that the fish may be released with minimum damage.

“Today’s action will help to improve Gulf red snapper populations while maintaining the sport fishing season that benefits several North Florida fishing communities,” said FWC Chairman Rodney Barreto.
FWC’s new red snapper rules take effect on April 1. The rules requiring circle hooks, dehooking devices and venting tools for all reef fish species take effect on June 1.