Standalone fishing rules possible for the Florida Keys

The Florida Keys could become their own fishing territory for rule making, a state fishery manager said Wednesday, “The two federal fishing councils that oversee federal waters around Florida recognize that fishing rules can get confusing in the Keys”, said Bill Teehan, director of Marine Fisheries Management for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

“There is a split in some rules in the Keys,” Teehan told the FWC board at its Wednesday meeting in Key Largo. “That creates issues that can be problematic for fishermen and law enforcement,” he said.

Teehan serves as the state government’s representative to the federal Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, which generally covers waters north of the Keys.

The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council oversees fishing on the East Coast and south of the Keys. The FWC has jurisdiction of state ocean waters. All three groups strive to standardize rules for various fish species for all three jurisdictions, but it doesn’t always work out that way.

When the rules don’t match up — the number of species where they don’t conform “goes on and on,” Teehan said — the Keys feel it most. Sometimes rules for fishing can change when a boater moves a few yards.

The Keys-specific area remains a concept, and changing federal fishing regulation frequently takes years. The FWC took no action on the proposal.

Bill Kelly, chief executive of the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association, said a local fishing territory would be “an excellent idea.” “We have a subtropical fishery as opposed to a more temperate zone,” Kelly said.

In other issues at the two-day FWC meeting:
This winter’s closed season on sea trout in Florida will be the last for recreational anglers. Because of improved fish-population numbers, the FWC voted to make sea trout eligible for harvest all year by anglers, beginning in February.

The commercial hook-and-line sea trout season was extended, but will still have a seven-month closed season (October through April in South Florida).

A provision allowing commercial fishermen using seine nets to keep up to 75 trout taken as bycatch was rejected after vociferous opposition from sportfishing groups.

Five FWC officers in Monroe County — Aaron Smith, Jason Rafter, Josh Peters, Bryan Fugate and Lt. David DiPre — were recognized by the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association and the FWC board for their efforts in combating lobster-trap thefts.

Assistant Monroe County State Attorney Colleen Dunne was honored as the FWC’s prosecutor of the year, a statewide honor, for her work on conservation cases.