Marine fisheries regulations will soon be easier to read, understand and enforce. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) at its June 12 meeting in Lakeland approved a proposal that will revise marine fisheries information in portions of 68B of the Florida Administrative Code, providing consistency among regulations and clarifying complex and confusing language. These changes go into effect Sept. 1.
Current regulations contain inconsistencies from one species chapter to the next. Also, definitions and the location of specific rules vary from chapter to chapter. It is because of issues like these that the public asked the FWC to streamline current marine fisheries rules.
Several changes were adopted, including some that will affect how current regulations are enforced.
A new “General” chapter is created to house definitions and regulations that will be applied to all marine fisheries. Currently, individual chapters contain repetitive definitions or rule language, which can be cumbersome and confusing to the reader, especially when worded differently. The creation and use of this new chapter will reduce confusion and enhance compliance by ensuring there is consistency among wording and meaning, and by eliminating repetition.
All regulations for the new chapter have been taken from existing species rules, and are therefore not new regulations. However, moving them to the new chapter will mean they apply to all marine fisheries, which could change how some rules are enforced for certain species.
For example, a rule is already in place in the reef fish chapter that prohibits harvest of both a recreational and commercial bag limit of reef fish species on the same trip. Under this rule, a harvester cannot keep both a recreational bag limit of red grouper and a commercial bag limit of gag grouper in the same day because these are both reef fish.
A similar provision applying to all other species besides reef fish will be added to the “General” chapter. This rule will further enforce the intent of bag limits and prevent harvest in excess of current bag limits. As an example of how the addition of this rule would work, a properly licensed commercial harvester could not catch both a commercial and recreational bag limit of king mackerel in the same day, but they could catch a recreational bag limit of king mackerel and a commercial limit of Spanish mackerel. The reef fish regulation will remain in rule as is and still be in effect.
Changes in definitions could also improve how the regulations are enforced. “Harvest” is one example of a definition that will be expanded. This definition will now include the unnecessary harming or destruction of marine organisms.
Approved changes that will not affect how current rules are enforced include standardizing the format and rule language for 22 species and relocating the regulations for swordfish, wahoo and sheepshead to new rule chapters of their own, separate from chapters dealing with other species.
Three rule changes that were originally included in this proposal were removed and will be discussed at a later date. Changes that will not be implemented at this time include standardization of the red drum rule, expansion of the definition “Florida waters” to include any potential fishing site and the adjacent parking area, and the moving of a rule that specifies vessel operators are responsible for fishery rule violations.
This is the first phase of an extensive revision process being conducted by FWC staff, including members of the FWC’s Legal Office and divisions of Law Enforcement and Marine Fisheries Management.
Future phases of the revisions will include standardizing the remaining chapters in 68B; conducting a review of the FWC’s local laws, which are specific to counties or regions, to determine which ones are still needed; and conducting a comprehensive review of Florida Statutes to determine which statutes need to be transferred to FWC rule or recommended for repeal.