Cold closes fisheries
Widespread fish kills due to prolonged cold weather has caused the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to close bonefish and tarpon fisheries and extend the closed season on snook.
A temporary statewide closed season for bonefish and tarpon is in effect through March 31, and the statewide closed season for snook is temporarily extended until Aug. 31.
While snook season is already closed under regular rules, the order extends the closure through other regular closed snook seasons in summer, and prohibits harvesting or possessing snook in state and federal waters off Florida until Aug. 31, unless the fishery is opened sooner.
The harvest and possession of bonefish and tarpon from state and federal waters off Florida is prohibited through March 31, unless the fisheries are opened sooner.
Catch-and-release fishing for all three species is allowed. The FWC encourages careful handling of the fish to help ensure their survival. Information on proper handling and release is available at http://catchandrelease.org/Catch_and_Release_web.pdf.
The FWC will evaluate the impacts of the prolonged cold weather on fish populations, and all closures could be extended, depending on how well fish stocks recover.
Saltwater harvest regulations also are temporarily suspended to allow people to collect and dispose of fish in the water and on the shore that died as a result of exposure to cold weather. It allows taking dead saltwater fish by hand, cast net, dip net or seine, even without a saltwater fishing license, but prohibits selling, trading or consuming the fish, and requires disposal in compliance with local safety, health and sanitation laws.
"A proactive, precautionary approach is warranted to preserve our valuable snook, bonefish and tarpon resources, which are among Florida's premier game fish species," FWC Chairman Rodney Barreto said. "Extending the snook closed season and temporarily closing bonefish and tarpon fishing will protect surviving snook that spawn in the spring and will give our research scientists time to evaluate the extent of damage that was done to snook, bonefish and tarpon stocks during the unusual cold-weather period we recently experienced in Florida."