Florida has its own lionfish king

New rules to be considered for overly fished snapper hog

When villains arise, so do heroes. Two cases in point: David Garrett of Ormond Beach slew 3,324 lionfish with a scuba diver’s spear gun. Samson, an Israelite, slew a thousand (estimated) Philistines with a donkey’s jawbone.

Garrett, as Florida’s first Lionfish King, will be pictured on the cover of next year’s Florida saltwater fishing regulations. Samson’s feat was featured in the Bible.

Garrett’s also getting a lifetime Florida saltwater fishing license, to be awarded with his title when the Fish and Wildlife Conservation (FWC) Commission meets at St. Petersburg on Thursday, Nov. 17.

Those 3.324 lionfish are not all that Garrett has slain — just the ones he caught between May 14 and Sept. 30, the opening and closing dates of The Lionfish Challenge.

He accounted for 20 percent of the total of 16,609. John Dickinson took 2,408 and has posted two YouTube videos demonstrating how to catch them with pole spear and snare.

In all, 95 divers participated in the challenge and removed 16,609 lionfish from the water. No divers were removed by lionfish.

More opportunities for lionfishing glory remain until next May in Gulf Coast waters of seven Panhandle counties: Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Bay Gulf and Franklin.

Anyone who turns in 100 tails from lionfish caught there will be awarded a tag allowing him to keep one red grouper or cobia more than the daily rod and reel bag limit.

In addition, the first 10 persons or groups that check in 500 or more lionfish during this one-year period will be given the opportunity to name an artificial reef. Four teams have qualified to name an artificial reef so far, and two of the four have already been named. More about that can be found online at http://myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/recreational/lionfish/challenge. Look for the link to a video about submitting tails.

Amended regulations on Florida lobster

Lobster poachers beware. Amended regulations, effective since Oct. 1, allow the crustacean cops to file a separate charge for every short lobster you’re caught with, instead of one charge for the whole caboodle.

In other words prosecutors can, if they choose, throw the book at you.

It also means the innocent had better take care to measure every lobster they keep. The carapace has to be larger than three inches.

Rob Klepper, info officer for the FWC enforcement division, says the first violation is a second degree misdemeanor, good for 60 days in jail. Get caught again and it’s a first degree misdemeanor worth a year of your life.

If they get you with 100 or more shorts, that’s a third-degree felony for a sentence up to five years and $2,500 worth of fines.

Lobster takers are required to have a measurement device, to measure every lobster caught while diving before taking it out of the water, and to leave it there if it’s short.

You can’t assign a sham bag limit to someone else on the boat — such as a child — who isn’t actively lobstering.

Is that all? No. For starters, Monroe County (the Keys) and Biscayne National Park have different regulations than the rest of Florida. To avoid trouble, learn up on all the rules before you go lobstering.

The bill creating the new regulations was sponsored by State Rep. Holly Raschein, who represents the Keys, with Jack Lavala of Clearwater sponsoring the Senate version. You’ll find all the details online here: www.myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/recreational/lobster.

Stone crab regulations

Now that we know the new regulations for lobster, let’s take a look at the unchanged but no less important ones for taking stone crab claws, whose season opened on Oct. 15 and stays open until next May 15.

If you’re trapping crabs, there are complicated rules to follow (some of them new) and it’s easy to make a mistake, but if you’re diving or snorkeling it’s simple as long as you measure the claws accurately.

First, the popular one-claw rule: It’s a good one but it doesn’t have the force of law. If both of a crab’s claws are two and three-quarter inches long you can take both legally, but you shouldn’t. A one-clawed crab can feed and defend itself against predators while growing a new one. If it has to grow two, its survival odds are poor. If it survives it will still grow new claws, but slowly.

Before breaking off the claw, check the crab’s underside for a sponge-like growth, commonly called...sponge. It’s an egg mass, and you’re not allowed to take either claw.

Don’t use any gathering tool that can puncture, crush or otherwise injure the crab’s body. That includes spears and hooks, even if you don’t cause an injury with them. Use nets or your gloved hands.

Recreational crabbers have a daily bucket limit of one gallon per person. If there are two of you on the boat, it’s two gallons. If there are three or more, the boat limit is still two gallons.

If you’re using traps, it’s essential to know more details. For example, the required trap opening dimensions are different in the waters off Miami-Dade, Collier and Monroe counties than in the rest of Florida.

Everything you need to know about the legal and safe way to take stone crabs is easy to find online at www.MyFWC.com.

From the home page, click on the fishing link, then the saltwater fishing link. Next, click the picture of recreational fishing regulations, which will give you a list of all species.

Choose stone crabs from the left-hand column or, if you’re already online, just click here: www.myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/recreational/stonecrabs. That page includes complete details about traps, a diagram showing how to measure claws and a video demonstrating the right way to remove them.

Don’t hog the hogfish

NOAA is preparing new rules for hog snapper in Florida, and inviting fishing-doers to participate. You have until Dec. 6 to make your views known on a proposal known as Amendment 37.

The planners’ favorite among several alternatives is a daily recreational bag limit of just one hogfish with a minimum fork length of 16 inches. The present minimum size is 12 inches. That’s expected to fit within a small annual catch quota of 36,449 pounds.

It’s not just the feds doing this. The hogfish plan is based mostly on a stock assessment done by the state in 2014. The assessment found that hogfish have been and still are being overfished. The purpose of the low quota, larger minimum size and one-fish limit is to help the species replenish itself in the next 10 years.

The plan also limits commercial hogfishing to a 25-pound trip limit in the Keys and off the east coast.

The first part of the plan is to establish a separate regulatory zone for the Florida east coast beginning at the Georgia border and wrapping around the Keys to the lower Gulf coast.

Then come several sub-alternatives for another boundary between the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico fishery management areas. The preferred one of those is a simple latitudinal line along 25 degrees, nine minutes, which touches land a little south of Cape Sable.

Hogfish start their lives as females and eventually become male unless they’re caught or die first. At the 16-inch size, scientists calculated that the gender breakdown is 50-50. By the time hogfish reach 25 inches, they’re all males.

Reproductive biology studies lead scientists to believe that raising the minimum keeper size from 12 inches to 16 would give more females more spawning time, thus increasing the species’ population.

Reading though the proposals is a tough, tedious slog, but it’s probably the only way to understand the problem. This link is to the frequently asked questions, where you’ll find links to the rest of the details: http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/sustainable_fisheries/s_atl/sg/ 2015/am37/index.html.