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South Atlantic Fishery Council Approves New Hogfish Rules

The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council has approved new recreational and commercial regulations for hogfish, a popular fish in the Florida Keys for catching and eating. The South Atlantic Council, which has jurisdiction from the Keys to North Carolina, agreed last week to reduce the bag limit for hogfish caught off South Florida from five fish per day to one and to increase the size limit from 12 inches to 16.

The council approved for the first-time recreational season for hogfish that would run from May through October. Currently, the fishery is open year-round. Also, the council approved a 25-pound trip limit for commercial fishermen, staff said. Currently, there is no commercial limit. The regulations will be sent to the U.S. Department of Commerce for final approval.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission may vote on the same regulations when it meets in November in St. Petersburg, according to FWC spokeswoman Amanda Nalley. The FWC board could vote on “consistency” rules adopting the same rules as the South Atlantic, or it could vote on similar draft regulations in November and then final rules at a later date, Nalley said.

FWC commissioner and Key West attorney Robert Spottswood said Friday he is familiar with the new rules but wants to talk more with FWC staff before taking a position on them. The new hogfish regulations come after federal fishery managers closed down the recreational fishery early last year because they ruled that the hogfish stock off South Florida was being overfished.

Hogfish are a reef species that inhabit rocky bottoms, ledges and reefs throughout Florida’s off-shore waters. They are easily identified by their long, hog-like snout, which allows them to feed on bottom-dwelling mollusks and crustaceans. Because they tend to root in the sediment in search of small prey, they are not commonly caught on hook and line. Hogfish are primarily harvested by spearfishing, and they are considered to be of excellent food quality.

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