Going for Gag By: Capt. T J Shea

Traditionally, September is a quiet month for those of us in the charter for hire industry. Kids are back to school, and we still have a month or so before the snow birds start to head this way. Red snapper are back on the shelf until the following year (charter for hire do not get weekends in the Fall like recreational anglers do).  Amberjack were only legal to harvest in August, and just for 24 days coinciding with water temps at their hottest pushing the majority of legal AJ’s far offshore. Thank NMFS/NOAA for that. I like to joke around with my fuel company that they are taking some key decision makers out to some high-end steakhouses for that decision. Just kidding of course!

I think most of us invite this lull in the industry. It gives us a chance to relax and recuperate after the insane summer that has just ended. Mental health and patience have been tested along with every mechanical and electrical part from constant use in the increasing summer heat.  We would normally spend Monday through Friday with one eye on the tropics and the other fixing everything that wore out, or is about to wear out. A few crew trips out to the Florida Middle Grounds for some underwater therapy is also a favorite past time of ours in September.

Well, that all changed for us earlier this year when NOAA implemented their temporary rule on May 3rd. The new regulations were approved and our six months of harvesting gag grouper had been slashed to just a little over two, September 1st to November 10th. With this change to the gag grouper fishery, September is going to be as busy as weather allows. For the past three months, all of us have either caught and released or got to see firsthand through our masks huge gags pretty much everywhere. In the past, they would have opened June 1st alongside red snapper. The combination made for many an epic summer fishing trip on the Gulf. Not the case this year.

I am sure this short season is based on valid data collected somewhere–other parts of Florida or, maybe, our neighboring Gulf states. My first-hand data on our gag population off of Clearwater/St Pete and Tarpon Springs would tend to disagree. I am all for protecting our resource to provide a healthy fishery going forward and, with this change, I expect to see record gag grouper catches for years to come. It’s just unfortunate that the majority of that will be catch and release instead of on your plate later that night.