Contrary to some reports, there are no new saltwater fish handling regulations in Florida. However, the FWC has
recently been reminding anglers about existing rules that are meant to protect fish when they can't be taken.
Fish must be immediately released for several reasons. For example, there is no allowable harvest of goliath
grouper and Nassau grouper in Florida.
Tarpon may only be taken if a special tag is clipped to the fish's lower jaw. Several species, such as snook, redfish
and spotted seatrout, can be kept only at certain times and sizes.
When a fish isn't allowed to be harvested, it must immediately be returned to the water free, alive, and unharmed.
However, if a fish is allowed to be taken at a certain size limit, it's okay to temporarily possess it to measure it, as
long as it is measured immediately after removing it from the water, and the fish is then immediately returned to the
water free, alive, and unharmed if it is not a legal-size fish.
The FWC has a pamphlet that offers tips on proper handling and release of saltwater fish
http://myfwc.com/marine/Docs/Catch_Release.pdf. Anglers should also use common sense when releasing fish.
Sometimes it's better to safely handle a fish to carefully remove the hook so it can be released, and other times it's
best to cut the line as close to the hook as possible while the fish is in the water - especially if it's large or agitated.
Releasing a Sailfish
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It is okay to take a picture of a fish that is not
allowed to be harvested while it's in the process of
being released, but it still must be let go
immediately and should not be held in lengthy
poses just for the purpose of taking the picture.
And it is never legal to hold on to or tow a fish that is
not allowed to be harvested to a place to weigh or
measure it for a fishing tournament or record.
The plain fact is that many of our most popular
recreational fisheries are strictly regulated, and
because of this, many fish caught must be returned
to the water. Most anglers would agree that
anything we can do to minimize the harm to those
fish being released will benefit the resource in the
However, we also don't want to discourage the fun
and excitement of catching fish and documenting
the catch, whether for records or the personal
satisfaction that comes with sharing this
experience with friends and family. That's why we
are attempting to inform the public about safe catch
and release techniques, and the harm that can be
caused to fish that are handled roughly or held out
of the water too long. That is the approach our law
enforcement officers are taking, and only egregious
cases of mishandling or unequivocal "possession"
of an illegal fish would be pursued.
Florida's anglers should be proud of their
conservation efforts. They have helped to restore or
sustain valuable fisheries, including snook, red
drum and spotted seatrout. As the number of
anglers continues to grow and our coastal habitats
come under increasing stress, it becomes more
important than ever to release those fish that
cannot be harvested in as good a condition as
possible. The next angler will thank you for it.