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Volume 1, Issue 6, December 2010: Blue Water, Bridges and Bays - Gag Grouper Fishing Better Than Ever

Welcome to another issue of FRESH FROM THE SALT, your guaranteed source for learning where the fish are holding from Tampa Bay to Tarpon Springs, every single month! For the December 2010 issue, Blue Water, Bridges and Bays - Gag Grouper Fishing Better Than Ever, we will once again explore the wonderful world of gag grouper fishing on our West Central Gulf Coast. Namely, we will discuss how hot this bite is right now, despite the fact that the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council has voted to shut down recreational gag grouper fishing for the 2011 season. Their claim is that gags are overfished by the recreational sector and we are thus experiencing a population decline. Some may agree with the research that is supplied to the Council by hired researchers and marine biologists, but, I have yet to have a trip, whether fishing in deep blue water, around the Skyway Bridge or other inshore bottom spots in Tampa Bay, where I did not quickly reach my bag limit for the day. This past Thanksgiving day, in fact, myself and one other angler caught our two fish per person bag limit in only one spot within an hour. And though I have mixed emotions about it, I mostly agree with the reduction in bag limit from five fish per day, per angler, to just a two fish limit. This seemed like a good compromise between overindulgence and extreme conservation, the likes of which I believe we are seeing with the planned 2011 closure.

Unfortunately, I believe we are experiencing the beginning of what may become generation after generation of stricter regulations - warranted or not. Tighter bag limits sometimes makes sense and can be fair. The 2011 snook closure due to last winter's double freeze makes good sense. But to close a fishery that is clearly flourishing both inshore and offshore is unfair at least, corrupt at worst. The extreme environmentalist lobby is stronger than ever these days, however good intended they may seem to be. If PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) had their way, fishing would be banned altogether and we'd be forced to teach our children that the term "fish" is obsolete, and that fish are now to be treated as "sea kittens". This is straight from their website. This radical group is literally advocating that we teach our future generations that fish are like domestic pets. Alas, I'm not sure how affectionate gag groupers, sharks, moray eels, scorpion fish, etc., are. I for one am not going to try snuggling with one on the couch any time soon.

So, whatever your position is on these forever tightening regulations - opposed to or, in the middle, write to your elected officials, attend public forums, and encourage dialogue with anglers and non-anglers alike. The pen is mightier than the sword, said playwright Edward Bulwer-Lytton. Use it!

Joshua W. Broer (pondfisher)

Blue Water, Bridges and Bays - Gag Grouper Fishing Better Than Ever

Gag grouper fishing in the West Central part of the Gulf of Mexico is hotter than ever, I believe. Yes, I know, I keep saying that every year. The moral of the story – there truly does not seem to be a shortage of gag grouper in our waters. My offshore buddies tell me that their hot spots are on fire, and that they continue to find new and productive spots as well. Inshore, if there was ever a sign that the gag grouper population is on the increase, this shallow water domain might hold the best evidence.

Over the past several years, I continue to catch more and more juvenile gags on the flats. This often happens during the fall and winter months when I am randomly slinging jigs around shallow grass areas in search of schools of trout. On any given day of trout fishing, I am averaging two to three juvenile gags that have made small rocks and tiny bits of structure their early life home until they move far offshore to breed and get big and fat. This was not always the case in my lifetime. Finding these small grouper in such high numbers on the flats was not so common just 10 or so years ago. Thus, we are seeing an obvious rise in the health and number of these fish we love so much.

When it comes to finding the bite inshore and nearshore, right now is about as good as it gets. The local online fishing forums are evidence of this. Whether it's digging up slot size fish at many of our large bridges or trolling deep-diving plugs and jig/planer combos on the edges of shipping channels and over nearshore limestone bottom, the reports don't lie. People are reporting some of the best gag grouper fishing in many decades. I, in fact, except for the hottest summer months, have turned my focus completely to grouper fishing. It makes sense. With the daily bag limit having been reduced from five fish per day, per angler, to only two fish, you can both get all the filets you need for a number of great meals and still be in a conservation mode. It seems to be a big shame then that our Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council has decided to close gag grouper fishing for the recreational sector for 2011.

If you do an online search for this subject, what you'll find is that the rule-making process is very convoluted and difficult to understand. In addition to the more easily understood rule that simply closes recreational gag fishing for 2011, the federal government offers this official statement in reference to their long-term strategy: "The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act requires fishery managers to establish a schedule and strategy to rebuild overfished populations. A rebuilding plan is a strategy used to manage harvest over a specified time period so that an "overfished" stock can increase in size to a legally mandated target level. The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council is developing a rebuilding plan for gag in Amendment 32 to the Reef Fish Fishery Management Plan…. The council favored a 2011 summer fishing season for gag because it would maximize the amount of time fishing could occur, thus proposing to close the fishery earlier in the year instead."

In layman's terms, this proposal would seem to, at least, close our recreational harvest for the first six months of the year. Since these plans and proposals always seem to be in a state of constant motion, all I can say is, we shall see. In the meantime, my advice to all recreational gag grouper fishermen is this – let your voice be heard. Your written comments on the subject may be submitted to a number of online forums, including one offered by the Gulf Fishery Management Council itself: Online searches relating to this subject yield a number of different websites in which some oppose the new rule, and some that advocate for it. Whatever your position is on this hotly debated topic, there are many ways to make a difference. Whether it's putting something in writing or participating in a local public forum, please be part of the decision-making process.

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