A short history of grouper mismanagement in the Gulf of Mexico

 In 1970 when I moved to St. Petersburg from Pensacola, the fishing in the eastern Gulf was fantastic. The mullet were prolific all over the Tampa Bay area. Kingfish were large and numerous in the Spring and Fall and there were so many grouper in shallow water that they were considered a nuisance fish during kingfish season. Most people at that time sold many of the fish that were caught to the local fish houses and restaurants. It was common in the early seventies to go out five to eight miles to thirty feet or so and come back a few hours later with 400 to 500 pounds of large grouper. If you didn't have at least 250 pounds of fish, you stayed out later so everyone in the marina would be gone and no one would see you come in with such a small catch. Recreational fishermen of the time seldom had boats over 21 feet long and there was very little in the way of electronics available except paper fish finders. No one had any navigation devices except a compass and watch, so most people stayed fairly close to shore. Commercial and recreational fishermen were on friendly terms for the most part at this time and everyone on the water looked out for everyone else.

 During the late sixties and early seventies the Japanese long line fleet was working in the central and western Gulf of Mexico fishing for yellowfin tuna. Once they caught all the yellowfin and it was no longer profitable to work in the Gulf (this was before the Magnusun Act created the 200 mile limit), they moved on to other fisheries. When they left, their longlining technology remained behind for our commercial industry to copy and adapt to bottom fishing. Florida commercial fishermen began longlining grouper in the late seventies, and as the fish were depleted in shallow water, they had to go farther and farther offshore. Recreational fishermen of the time began to pressure the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) because the grouper were being depleted in shallow water, and finally they ruled that the longliners would have to fish outside the 20 fathom curve (120 feet).

 The quotas for the commercial industry have risen over time as the catch rates increased. Since there was virtually no hard scientific data at that time about any fish species, the NMFS relied on the commercial industry for all their stock assessment data. Whenever recreational fishermen approached NMFS and badgered them about decreasing numbers of grouper, they simply raised the size limits on grouper for everyone. At the same time they increased the commercial quota year after year to compensate for minimum size increases. Size limits on grouper were raised from 12 inches to 16 inches  to 20 inches and finally to 22 inches, and the recreational bag limit set at five fish at the same time that the commercial quota was raised to 9.2 million pounds per year. Just a few years ago the quota was raised to 9.8 million pounds per year with no justification. They have never landed that many fish. As a matter of fact, the commercial landings have settled in around 8 million pounds of fish and seems to be dropping. This would certainly indicate an overfished condition. (At the time I wrote this, they had not yet begun closing seasons and upholding commercial quotas on grouper)

 At more than one of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Council (GMFMC) meetings in the late ninties, the long line industry has given testimony that they throw back over 20 million pounds of dead, under-sized red grouper in order to bring in the 8 million pounds of fish that were being currently landed. All the fish that are brought up from 20 fathoms are dead and of course the commercial industry is restricted to a 20-inch minimum size limit on red grouper and a 24 inch minimum size limit on gag and black grouper(at the time I originally wrote this article). Does this make good sense? If the fish are dead anyway, why are they not required to land them? At the same time the quota should be reduced at least 10% below their best year of the last five. This would seem a reasonable reduction. If fewer fish are landed the price goes up and the commercial fishermen make the same amount of money or possibly even more. A premium price is paid for grouper at the retail level now, so it would not affect the sales of the fish in any way.

 In late 1999 the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council(GMFMC) sent a rule recommendation to the Natrional Marine Fisheries Service(NMFS) requesting the size limit on gag grouper be raised to 22 inches and then over two years raised an inch per year to 24 inches. At the same time, the recreational bag limit would be lowered to two fish per day from the current level of five. This was a blatant attack on recreational fishermen in order to avoid confrontation with the commercial sector by lowering their quota. Because the majority of gag grouper caught on long lines exceeds 24 inches, this rule has had little effect on the commercial take. The only thing that they did on the commercial side was to close a small area of the Gulf, a little over 200 square miles, that has been identified as a spawning area for grouper. Two hundred square miles is only a 10x20-mile area. In the expanse of the Gulf of Mexico, this is barely a drop of water. Who would patrol this tiny area to make sure that no one is fishing for grouper there? Is NMFS ready to fund a US Coast Guard cutter to stay on station there year round to enforce this regulation? They did have an emergency closure from March 15th, 2001 to April 15th, 2001 to let the grouper spawn, but surprisingly they did not spawn when NMFS told the to. Every grouper caught after the closure was landed full of roe. For whatever reason the grouper did not spawn until at least a month after NMFS thought they would. The only thing the closure did was to allow the grouper to aggregate into huge spawning masses that the commercial fishermen found  very convenient.

In 1996 the Sustainable Fisheries Act became law and stated in part that the health of the species being managed was to be given a top priority in fisheries management. Congress recognized that instead of fisheries conservation, the NMFS and all the councils were mismanaging all our fisheries virtually into collapse. None of the councils and apparently none of the upper management at NMFS seem to have taken this law seriously. This inept attempt by the GMFMC to again over-regulate the recreational fishery and do nothing to reduce the commercial quota is a prime example.

If you feel as I do that the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council has finally overstepped the boundaries of proper fisheries management, please write the National Marine Fisheries Service, Southeast Regional Office, 9721 Executive Center Drive North, St. Petersburg, FL 33702 and direct your comments to the proposed grouper rule.


The recreational grouper regulations in 2006 now call for only 5 grouper per person, one of which can be a red grouper, gags and blacks must be 22" and reds 20". There were several attempts in 2005 by the Gulf Council to restrict the recreational take, in some cases to only 2 fish. They also tried to close the season from November through the winter to recreational fishing for grouper. Thank goodness, and everyone who rose up and called and wrote, none of these ridiculous proposals passed.

NEW! April 6, 2006

The National Marine Fisheries Service has issued a proposed rule to implement a regulatory amendment to the Fishery Management Plan for the Reef Fish Resources of the Gulf of Mexico (FMP) prepared by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council. This proposed rule would establish a recreational bag limit for Gulf red grouper of one fish per person per day; prohibit the captain and crew of a vessel operating as a charter vessel or headboat from retaining any Gulf grouper, i.e.,establish a zero bag limit for captain and crew; and establish a seasonal closure of the recreational fishery for gag, red grouper, and black grouper in or from the Gulf exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The intended effect of this proposed rule is to maintain recreational landings at levels consistent with the red grouper rebuilding plan while minimizing potential shift of fishing effort to associated grouper species.

NMFS is requesting your comments on the proposed rule.Written comments on the proposed rule must be received no later than 5 p.m., eastern time, on May 1, 2006.You may submit comments on the proposed rule by any of the following methods: E-mail: 0648-AU04.Proposed@noaa.gov. Include in the subject line the following document identifier: 0648-AU04. Federal e-Rulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov.

Follow the instructions for submitting comments. Mail: Andy Strelcheck, Southeast Regional Office, NMFS, 263 13\th\ Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33701. Fax: 727-824-5308; Attention: Andy Strelcheck.

Copies of the regulatory amendment, which includes a Regulatory Impact Review (RIR), an Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis (IRFA), and an Environmental Assessment (EA) may be obtained from the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, 2203 N. Lois Avenue, Suite 1100, Tampa, FL 33607; telephone: 813-348-1630; fax: 813-348-1711; e-mail: gulfcouncil@gulfcouncil.org. Copies of the regulatory amendment may also be downloaded from the Council's website at http://www.gulfcouncil.org . If you have any questions, please contact, Andy Strelcheck, telephone: 727-824-5374, fax: 727-824-5308, e-mail: andy.strelcheck@noaa.gov.,


The saga continues.....

Marine Sanctuary Hoax (big in 2001, 02, 03, and still going on!) Click here....

Click here to see what was happening re:grouper closures in 2002....

Capt. Charlie Walker 

About Us || Privacy Policy | Contact Us | © Southern Charm