Fishing Charters Florida
Gag grouper ban worries Pasco fishing pros
By CARL ORTH | The Suncoast News
NEW PORT RICHEY – First came the Great Recession, which prompted people to sell their boats.Then came the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, which kept fishermen and tourists away.
Now a proposed ban on recreational fishing for gag grouper in federal waters off Florida could ruin the fishing industry in Pasco County, hook, line and sinker, say area fishing professionals.
What has them upset is the six-month ban scheduled to start Jan. 1 in waters at least nine miles offshore.
Federal authorities believe the gag grouper population is too small to reproduce, Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission officials recently explained to Greg Giordano, chief legislative assistant to state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey.
For now, fishing for gag grouper will be allowed in state waters, Giordano said, at least until a December conference on the topic at the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Council.
After the temporary ban, permanent rules might bring bag limits or close some regions of the gulf permanently.
“We’ve already been hurt by the economy and things out of our control” like the oil spill, said Matt Baldwin of Fisherman’s World in Holiday.
“I expect a giant impact,” Baldwin said about the grouper ban. “It’s a shame actually. It couldn’t come at a worst time. We’re hoping there’s some injunction to save the day.”
The “best solution,” Baldwin advises, would be to create regions of gulf waters that could be regulated separately based on local conditions.
“We can’t be regulated anymore,” Baldwin said. Regulations are killing the trade as it is, he thinks.
“It’s going to put a lot of shops out of business” said Dwayne Mercer of One Stop Bait and Tackle in New Port Richey. The shop has been open for more than 40 years.
“It’s going to hurt business across the board,” Mercer said. “Commercial charter boats, they’re going to feel it. I’d say offshore fishing is down 80 to 85 percent from just four years ago.
“I used to have to keep a whole spare freezer for sardines and chum” bait, Mercer said. Now everything he needs to meet customer demand fits in one freezer.
To add insult to injury, the temporary ban will come during some of the prime fishing season for gag grouper, Mercer said.
“It’s unbelievable,” lifelong fisherman Danny Szafran of Salonika Bait and Tackle in Port Richey said. A ban “would do nothing but further hurt our economy. “We’re just hanging on right now.” Salonika Bait and Tackle has endured more than 30 years.
“My offshore anglers are my biggest spenders. We (already) got hit with the worst winter we’ve ever seen in Florida” which chilled fishing expeditions.
Many Japanese, Chinese and other foreign fishermen like to fish in gulf waters, Szafran noted. He wonders how a ban would apply to them.
“This oil spill just contaminated the whole entire offshore breeding ground,” Szafran said. “All that oil didn’t just disappear. It’s sitting on the bottom” of the gulf where grouper like to breed.
One possible alternative to the ban might be to add a surcharge onto the fishing license fee, Szafran thinks. The money would help breed hatchlings that could be released into the gulf, an approach taken with seeding the redfish population.
Fasano agrees a ban could hurt the already struggling economy here, Giordano said. As an alternative, Fasano, the Senate’s president pro tempore, would prefer limits on the size of gag grouper caught or a quota on fish caught per trip.
Carl Orth can be reached at 727-815-1068 or firstname.lastname@example.org