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Reef Fish Info Needed! (Free T-Shirt Reward!)

Biologists can learn much about the Gulf recreational fishery from anglers’ reports of catching several species of snapper, grouper, and gray triggerfish.Since 2009, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has conducted research on offshore recreational fishing for a group of finfish species collectively termed reef fish.
These studies by the FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute will continue through 2012 to monitor recreational fisheries along the west Florida shelf in the Gulf of Mexico.Reef fish include several dozen species of fish that are highly sought after by both commercial harvesters and recreational anglers, among them red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus), gag (Mycteroperca microlepis), red grouper (Epinephelus morio), black grouper (Mycteroperca bonaci), vermilion snapper (Rhomboplites aurorubens), gray or mangrove snapper (Lutjanus griseus), and gray triggerfish (Balistes capriscus).
Commercial landings of reef fish must be reported to state and federal resource management agencies at the point of sale. Understanding the recreational fisheries is also important to resource managers, but with over 1 million anglers licensed in Florida each year to fish recreationally for  saltwater species,  collecting complete information is a big challenge.

Most recreational anglers support efforts to conserve natural resources when scientific evidence supports the need. Without a complete picture of fishing practices and the overall impacts of recreational fishing, fisheries managers are often forced to take conservative measures to ensure overfishing does not occur. The goal of this research is to collect the best possible information on recreational fisheries for reef fish off Florida’s west coast.

The research has two major components:

  1. Characterization of recreational fishing for reef fish in the Gulf of Mexico, including types of gear used, areas and depths fished, numbers of harvested and released fish, and handling of released fish, as well as size, age, and sex of the catch.
  2. Evaluation of survival rates of reef fish released by recreational anglers. FWC biologists accompany recreational anglers on participating charter boats and headboats to record information as fish are caught and handled. Reef fish that must be released due to size limits or other restrictions will first be tagged. Biologists  observe the size and type of hook used, where the fish was hooked, how the fish was handled (whether vented, whether the hook was removed, whether a dehooker was used), from what depth the fish was captured, whether the fish suffered trauma caused by rapid ascent from deep waters, and whether effects vary for different sizes and species of fish.

How can you help?

Fill out a catch card. Researchers need volunteers to record details of their next offshore recreational fishing trip, including tallies of red snapper harvested and released. To receive a red snapper catch card with free return postage, e-mail your complete mailing address to FishStats@MyFWC.com. Or, if you don’t mind paying postage, download a catch card. Provide a return address with the completed catch card, and FWC will send you a free adhesive fish ruler to place on your boat or cooler.

Report tagged fish. If you catch a tagged snapper, grouper, or triggerfish, please record the tag number, date and time of capture, location, species, length, and type of bait used, and report whether you kept the fish. Do not remove the tag from fish you release, so that scientists can continue to collect recapture data. Call the Angler Tag Return Hotline at 1-800-367-4461 or e-mail tagreturn@MyFWC.com with this information, and FWC will send you a free T-shirt.

Show researchers your catch. If you take a trip on a charter boat or headboat with an FWC biologist on board, let the researcher collect samples from your harvested fish and measure and tag the ones you release.

Add your charter or headboat vessel to this survey. If you are a charter or headboat vessel operator and would like to invite an FWC biologist to accompany your fishing trips, call (727) 896-8626 and ask for Beverly Sauls, or e-mail FishStats@MyFWC.com.

Thank you for your participation!