Florida fishery managers could move to ease a harvest ban on snook but tighten rules on taking bonefish and tarpon Wednesday.
The state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission takes up a proposal at its Lakeland meeting to "make tarpon and bonefish catch-and-release-only."
"Recreational fishing for tarpon and bonefish is an important part of Florida's cultural heritage and its reputation as the fishing capital of the world," says an FWC staff report. "These species are highly valued in Florida as catch-and-release fisheries but have low value as food fish."
A recommended change on bonefish would eliminate an exception for contestants in approved fishing tournaments to carry a bonefish in a live well to a dockside weigh station before release.
If approved, the new version would require all bonefish be released at the boat.
Tarpon can now be harvested as long as the angler has pre-purchased a $50 tag. Proposed rule changes could limit use of a tarpon tag to a fish "harvested in pursuit of an [International Game Fish Association] record."
Anglers would be allowed to buy only one tarpon tag per year. Charter captains could buy multiple tags but be allowed to transfer just one tag each year to a specific fisherman.
Tarpon could be possessed temporarily for photos, measurements and scientific work before being released "in the immediate area where caught."
Small tarpon could be lifted from the water. Those more than 40 inches in fork length must remain in the water for pictures and measuring, the rule proposes.
Tarpon and bonefish rules are covered by state statutes so any revisions approved by the FWC board would be subject to additional action by the Florida Legislature next spring.
Harvesting a snook in Florida Keys and Gulf of Mexico has been closed since shortly after the record cold snap of January 2010 killed untold numbers of the snook population.
That could change in September if the FWC agrees with a staff suggestion to reopen snook for harvest.
For Atlantic waters north of Monroe County, the daily bag limit of one legal-size snook per day was reopened in September 2011. The Keys and Gulf stayed closed due "significant" losses of snook in January 2010.
FWC staff now recommends that the closure be allowed to end as currently scheduled Aug. 31. Historic snook closures in December and January, and during the summer spawning season, would resume.
"The stock is likely well above the biological threshold and fishing mortality is low for this stock even when the season is open," a staff report says. "The current slot limit will protect juveniles that were affected in 2010, as well as the largest individuals in the population."
Many Florida Keys guides require that a snook caught by a client be released.
The FWC's Tuesday-through-Thursday meeting takes place at the Hilton Garden Inn of Lakeland.