The Mutton Snapper, a fish under extreme scrutiny by both the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), and the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council. Deemed to be a healthy stock, and not overfished, or undergoing any overfishing, new regulations have been placed upon Mutton Snapper in the state waters of Florida. These new regulations include raising the minimum size limit from 16 inches to 18 inches, reducing the bag limit from 10 fish per angler to 5 fish per angler (within the 10 snapper aggregate), and changing the commercial trip limit to 5 fish per person/ per day during the months of April, May, and June, with a 500 pound trip limit during the rest of the year.
Over the last 20 or so years these fish, and their massive spawning congregations to a handful of Florida Keys reefs, have been the target of many heated conversations. During the full moon, These spawning fish move into areas of the reef and become easy targets to fishermen from late April thru June. Earlier regulations allowed for a 10 fish per person bag limit, creating a stir when boats would show catches of 100’s of spawning fish going to freezers and fish houses everywhere. Many debates as to whether or not allow fishermen to catch these fish as they are spawning, or as to reducing the bag limits during the spawn have been at the front line, but the fire was stoked when these organizations along with the Florida Keys Sanctuary, began looking into closing areas of reef to protect these fish during their spawn. Measures were taken and a very popular reef south of the Dry Tortugas named Riley’s Hump was completely closed to fishing. Not just for Mutton Snapper, but for any and all species of sea life. Now, years later these powers have brought up ideas of closing even more sections of reef, one of them being Western Dry Rocks, a widely fished area southwest of Key West located in state waters. These ideas of closing more waters of the Keys have been met with extreme opposition from the majority of the fishing community, arguing that closing an area for a fish that spawns during three months out of the year shouldn’t be closed year round, and that more closures will inevitably create more pressure in other areas. Over the course of the last couple years, many public workshops have been held by these organizations to hear what the public has to say and comment about these regulation changes. During the FWC’s latest meeting in St. Augustine, actions to further special management of Western Dry Rocks were not taken.