Saltwater fin fish size limits are expressed in Total Length and Fork Length

Clarification was approved for the definition of Total Length at the December
2005 Commission meeting.  The rule is effective July 1, 2006.   

Why did we make this change?

Previously, FWC rules did not consistently state how to obtain total length,
leaving this measurement open to interpretation by anglers and law
enforcement officers.  This modification should provide ease of measurement
for anglers and ease of enforcement of size limits.  Anglers have also asked
for consistency between marine fish and freshwater fish measurements as
well as with the federal definition for total length.  Better compliance with our
regulations should result because visiting anglers from nearby states are
currently instructed to measure total length by squeezing the tail in their home
states, including Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, Georgia, and North Carolina.  
Thus, this method is already familiar to them, and this could foster compliance
with our regulations by out-of-state anglers.  Also, many Florida saltwater
anglers had already been measuring total length with a pinched tail, thus for
these people there will be no change in method.

What species will be affected by the change?

Only species that are currently measured as total length will be affected.  
Species measured as fork length will not be affected.   

Why did we change gray triggerfish to fork length?

Federal rules currently state that gray triggerfish should be measured as total
length.  However, their definition of total length specifies that tail filaments
should be excluded, which is essentially a fork length measurement.  Anglers
often include the tail filaments in the measurement of total length for gray
triggerfish, which is allowing them to harvest fish that are below the intended
12-inch size limit.  Changing the measurement of gray triggerfish to fork length
will also allow gray triggerfish to be measured similarly to hogfish, which are
currently measured as fork length and have similar tail filament types.   

How do I measure fish that have ragged-edge type tail filaments, such as
scamp, yellowmouth grouper, or black sea bass?

For fish that have “ragged-edge” type filaments, these “pieces” of the tail
should be included in the measurement of total length, which is implied by
stating that the fish be measured to the “farthest tip of the tail” in the definition
for total length.

Is there a change to sheepshead measurement?

Sheepshead and flounder are included in the same rule (68B-48, Florida
Administrative Code).  This rule lists a size limit of 12 inches total length for
sheepshead and flounder.  However, “length” was previously defined as “from
the most forward point of the head to the rear center edge of the tail”.  This was
a total length measure for flounder since they have a convex tail, but this was a
fork length measurement for sheepshead since they have a slightly forked
tail.  However, the rule stated that sheepshead should be measured as total
length.  This inconsistency was part of the reason we needed to modify our
rules.  Thus, under the new definition sheepshead should be measured as
total length with a squeezed tail.

What effect will this clarification have on fish stocks?

For species (measured as total length) with a flat or rounded tail (red drum,
spotted seatrout, and tripletail) there will be little change since minimal length
is gained by squeezing the tail on those species.  For species with a concave
or “forked” tail (measured as total length) the new interpretation will only have
a small impact, but the overall effect on the stock will be negligable.  Also, the
new interpretation will only affect anglers who had been interpreting total
length to mean total length-relaxed (unsqueezed tail).  

What effect will this clarification have on snook stocks?

If you were not squeezing the tail before, there is approximately a 0.77 inch
difference between a relaxed tail and a squeezed tail.  However, because of
the variation in size-at-age, squeezing the tail will have a small effect on the
overall snook stock.  Due to public concern about the status of snook stocks,
the FWC voted at its June 2006 Commission meeting to shift the snook slot
from 26 - 34 inches to 27 - 34 inches in order to negate any potential negative
effects on snook stocks.  This shift will result in a 22% harvest reduction on
the Gulf coast and a 12% reduction on the Atlantic coast according to the most
recent snook stock assessment.  The change is predicted to result in an
increase in spawning potential ratio (SPR) by 7% on the Gulf coast and 5% on
the Atlantic coast.

Should you pinch the tail at both ends of the slot for fish that have a slot
limit?

Yes

Does this change apply to freshwater fish also?

The Division of Freshwater Fisheries Management measures all regulated
fish using a total length measurement with a squeezed tail.  

History of Finfish Measurement in Florida

The State of Florida has wrestled with how to measure saltwater finfish since
1925.  In 1925 the Legislature first enacted length measurements for marine
finfish.  Many different methods have been used over the years (1925-1973)
including: tip of nose to fork of tail, tip of nose to tip of tail, tip of nose to end of
tail, and tip of nose to rear center edge of tail.  At any one time, one or all of
these definitions were used.  In the late 1980s both a total length and a fork
length size limit were listed in rule for some species.  By the mid 1990s, only
one measure was chosen for most species primarily based on the way
federal regulations specified how the species should be measured.   

Why Aren’t all Fish Measured by a Single Method?

At the present time most of the regulated species in Florida are measured by
either a total length or fork length method.  The method chosen depends on
the shape of the tail and primarily on the consistency with federal regulations.  
Consistency with federal regulations is very important for the enforcement of
state and federal size limits.