March 17, 2020
Fishing for Grouper off the Florida coast is always a day of fun and excitement. But which coast you’re on (Gulf Coast to the west or Atlantic Coast to the east) will determine what you can harvest and when. The FWC (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission) manages the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean differently, and it’s important to know what’s in season and what you can harvest from each shoreline.
The Gulf of Mexico is a unique body of water that provides commercial and recreational anglers plenty of fishing opportunities. The Gulf covers most of Florida’s west coast, from Pensacola in the Panhandle to the start of the Everglades at the tip of the peninsula. Popular fishing destinations along the Sunshine State’s west coast include Destin, Panama City Beach, Tampa, and Fort Myers to name just a few. If you’re fishing state waters you’ll be within 9 miles of the coast. Beyond that 9 miles is considered federal waters. This is important to keep in mind as there are different regulations for what’s in season and what you can harvest depending on if you’re in state or federal waters.
For Gag Grouper fishing in the Gulf, it’s important to note what county you’re embarking from. For counties of Franklin, Wakulla, Taylor and Jefferson (in the Panhandle area from Apalachicola to Steinhatchee) there is open season in state waters from April 1 to June 30, and again from September 1 to December 31. Everywhere else the state water regulations start June 1 and end December 31; this is the same for federal water regulations as well. There is a bag limit of 2 per person within 4 grouper aggregate (which means you’re only allowed a total of 4 grouper per person, no matter what subspecies of Grouper you catch).
Black, Red, Scamp, Yellowfin and Yellowmouth Grouper all have similar regulations in the Gulf. Red Grouper has a bag limit of 2 per person, while the rest have a bag limit of 4 per person, all within the 4 grouper aggregate. And state water has an open season year round; However, in federal waters you can only harvest these subspecies of Grouper from April to January (closed in February and March).
It’s open season in both state and federal waters for Rock Hind, Coney, Yellowedge and Snowy Groupers. These each have a bag limit of 4 per person within the aggregate. Warsaw Grouper are also available year round, but have a limit of 1 per vessel.
There are also slot limits for each Grouper. You can ask your charter captain if the size you have is a keeper or not; or refer to the FWC regulations to make sure you’re staying compliant.
If you’re lucky enough to catch a Goliath Grouper or Nassau Grouper, take a quick picture and release it back to the wild. There is no harvesting of these in either state or federal waters and they are catch-and-release only.
Now moving east to the beautiful Atlantic Ocean where there are excellent opportunities for grouper fishing. Keep in mind, the FWC considers the Everglades and Florida Keys as part of the Atlantic Ocean waters, and all fishing done in these areas must stay within Atlantic-specific regulations. Federal waters start at 3 nautical miles from the coast (state waters are from the coastline to 3 miles out). From the Florida Keys to Jacksonville, anglers have hundreds of cities to choose from to launch your grouper expedition. The real question is, what subspecies of grouper you’ll find at the end of your line.
East Coast anglers should mark your calendars for May 1, this is when Gag Grouper and Black Grouper season opens from the Keys to Duval County (Jacksonville area). The season runs until December 31, and each angler can collect one or the other each trip within the 3 grouper aggregate.
Red, Scamp, Yellowfin, Yellowmouth, Rock Hind, Coney and Yellowedge Groupers each have a bag limit of 3 per person within the 3 grouper aggregate. Again, the season for both state and federal waters run from May 1 until December 31.
Warsaw Grouper are not permitted to be harvested in federal waters. If you do catch them within 3 nautical miles of the shore you can harvest one per vessel per day. In state waters, open season is year-round and there is no size limit.
Similar regulations are in place for Snowy Grouper. There is no size limit, but state and federal waters have different bag limits and seasons. If you are in state waters you can harvest throughout the year, but each person can only harvest one per day. While federal waters has a season from May 1 until August 31 and there is a bag limit of one per vessel per day.
Like the Gulf regulations, Goliath Grouper and Nassau Grouper are catch-and-release only in the Atlantic. While they are fun to catch, you’ll need to release your catch after you’ve taken a quick picture.
Whether you’re fishing the Gulf or the Atlantic, bottom fishing or trolling for grouper is a fun and memorable way to spend the day. They are aggressive and worth the fight. And the ones you are able to harvest make for delicious meals. After your trip you’ll soon be ready to go grouper fishing again; we have no doubt that you’ll be going back for more sooner rather than later. Honestly, that’s why there are regulations in place, so that this incredible species is not overfished and the population stays healthy.
Catch-and-release is a great way to help sustain the Grouper species. Professional captains can help you get to the fish, and how to safely dehook for another day’s fight. Now is the time to book your Grouper fishing charter, the season is just a few short weeks away and you’ll want to be sure to get in on the action!
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