NAVIGATING THE TROUBLED WATERS OF OFFSHORE FISHING REGULATIONS

The 45 Hatteras charter boat, “Ann’s Dream”, docked in Freeport, returns form a day’s offshore charter – with a lot fewer fish than in the past.

Back in the spring, I saw a post on a hunting website I often visit in which a member was bragging about a 27 pound red snapper he caught while fishing with a buddy “12 miles offshore” from Port O’Connor. After a limited amount of obligatory soul searching, I sent the fellow a PM to explain that if they were really 12 miles offshore – not just fishing near what his friend called the “12 mile rigs”, which in many cases turn out to be actually miles from shore – or 12 miles from the jetties on a course which ran down the shoreline instead of straight out, then they were in Federal waters, which begin nine nautical miles from the Texas beach. Although red snapper season is “open” all year in Texas waters, where the minimum legal length is 15″ (total length), in Federal waters the size is 16″, daily catch limit is 2 per person, and the season for 2012 was only open from June first through July 10 in 2012. This would mean his fish – which he had proudly showed off at a bait camp and posted pictures of on the internet – was caught during the closed season, and thus an illegal catch.

I do not think this gentleman had any intention of breaking the law – as a “casual” offshore fisherman he wasn’t aware of the many and ever changing regulations that affect red snapper fishing. Had a Federal game warden seen his post, however, he would likely have been cited. As a service to readers, I am posting a round up of regulations for popular offshore fish species, in both state and Federal waters – as the two are not always consistent with one another. These regs are, as far as I can determine, up to date as of 10/10/2012, but I might not rely on them much past that, as changes are already in the works for a couple of species, and with snapper we never know when changes will happen – just that they likely will. I will not be listing grouper regs, because they can get REALLY confusing among species, also because not many grouper are found inside of Texas waters. Check the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management website for updates on grouper and other fish before heading offshore.

SPECIES        MINIMUM LENGTH  DAILY BAG LIMIT (PER PERSON) 

Snapper, Red                  15″ (TX)  16″ (FED)     4 (TX)   2 (Fed)

Vermillion                     10″                                       20*

Lane                                 8″                                       20*

King mackerel               27″ (TX)  24″ (FED)         2

Spanish Mackerel        14″ (TX)   12″ (FED)        15

Cobia (Ling)                37″ (TX)    33″ (FED)        2

Amberjack                   37″ (TX)   30″ (FED)        1

Tarpon                                 85″                               1

Sharks – “Small”                24″

Sharks – “Large”                 64″

Triggerfish                           Season Clozed

Blue Marlin                       131″

White Marlin                     86″

Sailfish                                84″

Alligator gar  daily bag limit one fish

Small sharks are  sharpnose, blacktip and bonnethead.

Large sharks are all others. Bag limit on sharks is one per day of ANY species.

Where state regulations appear to allow a longer fish than do Federal regs, it will be because state regs are for Total Length, while the Federal reg is for Fork Length at the tail.

On vermillion and lane snapper, they fall under the “Reef Fish Aggregate” in Federal waters, which allows a 20 fish bag of vermillion or lane snappers, some small groupers, and triggerfish. This means 20 fish total from among the species. You can have 2o Vermillion AND lane snapper, but not 20 of each.

When fishing for red snapper, only non-stainless circle hooks are allowed in Federal waters, and a hook removing device and venting tool must be carried.

For “blue-water” fishermen, there are still no size or bag limits on blackfin tuna, dolphin, or wahoo. Closer inshore, bonito (little tunny), spadefish, jack crevalle, and bluefish have no limits or restrictions. Fishermen on a licensed for-hire vessel (party boat or charter boat) staying out more than 24 hours who have a receipt to prove it are allowed to bring back 2 days limit of fish – such as snapper and king mackerel. There is no such allowance for private boats, and none whatsoever for boats overnighting in Texas waters. No matter how many days you should stay out, 2 days limits are the maximum allowed.

If all this seems a bit much, be glad you are not a charter captain, who has to be drug tested, carry an alcohol test kit on board, and carry a spare tire and length of PVC pipe to release any sea turtles accidentally caught – among other strange rules.

 

ENJOY!

 

 

About MikeH

Texas hunter and fisherman for 50 years, published outdoor writer since 1979, licensed charter boat operator from 1982 to 2013. Past Member, Board of Directors, National Association of Charterboat Operators, current member Environmental Advisory Committee to the DOE and the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Married to Dorothy since 2000, one son, Michael who is recently married and living in Nederland, Texas. My wife and I live in Oyster Creek, Texas, near Freeport, and have a hunting property outside of Brazoria, Texas.
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