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FWC proposes weakfish management changes

News Release

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Media contact: Lee Schlesinger, 850-487-0554

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) proposed draft rule amendments Thursday to comply with an interstate fisheries management plan to help rebuild depleted weakfish stocks along the nation's Atlantic Ocean coastal waters and to rectify weakfish-identification issues in Northeast Florida.

Weakfish live off the Atlantic coast from Massachusetts to Florida, although the major fishery occurs from North Carolina to New York. In Florida, weakfish are found only in the extreme northeast part of the state.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), a compact of Atlantic coastal states responsible for managing several nearshore fisheries from Maine to Florida, recently determined that weakfish stocks are depleted along the entire Atlantic coast.  As a result, they developed a management plan to reduce the recreational and commercial harvest of weakfish by more than 50 percent along the Atlantic coast.

The ASMFC plan requires Florida to reduce the daily recreational bag limit for weakfish, also known as gray seatrout or yellow-mouth trout, from four fish to one fish per person and establish a commercial weakfish harvest limit of 100 pounds per vessel per day or trip (whichever is longer).

In addition, weakfish and sand seatrout - a nonregulated fish in Florida - look alike and live in waters off Florida's northeast coast.  Weakfish and sand seatrout interbreed and have created a hybrid-fish population.  The two distinct species are hard to tell apart, and the hybrid population further complicates their identification and makes enforcement of weakfish regulations difficult.

Consequently, the FWC is proposing to apply Florida's weakfish management rules only in state waters of the St. Marys River in Nassau County, where weakfish are mostly found.  All weakfish-like fish (including weakfish, sand seatrout and their hybrids) would be considered weakfish in this management area, and the proposed one-fish recreational bag limit and 100-pound commercial trip limit would apply.  The current 12 inches minimum size limit for weakfish would remain unchanged.

In all other areas in Florida, the weakfish size limit, recreational bag limit and commercial trip limit would not apply.

A final public hearing on the proposed weakfish rule amendments will take place during the FWC's June meeting in Winter Park.

FWC Facts:
The FWC issues more than 200 licenses, permits and certifications covering a wide range of activities impacting fish, wildlife and boater safety.

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