Editorís note: The following is a letter presented to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission by a Wakulla County Commissioner at the FWCís Oct. 11 public workshop in Perry.
On behalf of the citizens of Wakulla County, I want to thank you for your courageous vote on the Spring 2012 gag grouper season in state waters of the Big Bend. It is not always easy to stand up to "big brother," but you did so, and the people commend you and thank you.
Wakulla County's coastal economy is directly or indirectly dependent on our fishing industry for jobs. More that 80 percent of our land mass is off of the tax rolls because it is either national forest or federal refuge.
We are blessed to have a bountiful population of gag grouper in our state waters, but they are only there during the cooler months of March through June, and October and November. Our marinas, guides, bait and tackle shops, motels, restaurants, campgrounds, grocery stores, and related coastal businesses have historically counted on this six-month window for small boaters, who trailer boats under 20' from Tallahassee, Quincy, Marianna, South Georgia, Alabama, and beyond to pursue our shallow water gag grouper. During July and August, these same boaters catch scallops and fish our inshore waters for trout, reds and flounder. Our coastal businesses must get every possible customer during this 10-month period to carry them over during December and January when our coastal communities become "ghost towns."
The number of people grouper fishing from big boats capable of fishing federal waters has decreased in our area by more than 60 percent from what it was just five years ago. Most people have sold or given away their big boats, because they can no longer afford to fish them or are discouraged with the enhanced restrictions and limited bag limits. Last spring's gag grouper season was an absolute success in that it allowed small boaters to access gags for a three-month period. Although reports from our local guides and visiting sport fishers indicate that we have more gag grouper in Big Bend waters now than we have had in years, there is still, by historic standards, very little fishing pressure coming from our boat landings and marinas.
Taking these factors into consideration, I would urge the commission to increase the season dates in state waters of the Big Bend to include March through June as well as October and November. In addition, I would recommend that the federal season remain as it was last year. This will help maintain our coastal economy and give the relatively few people with larger boats an opportunity to pursue gags in deeper water.
Your favorable consideration of these recommendations is appreciated.
WakullaCountyCommissioner, District 3