CAPE CORAL, Fla. - To fish or not to fish? Many state recreational fishermen are worried a decision Wednesday could have a major impact on their jobs and profits.
FWC Commissioners will vote on closing the harvest of Gag Grouper in state waters from June 1st through the end of the year. Officials say it's to save the dwindling population, but those who are out on waters every day say, the population around Southwest Florida is fine.
"There are so many gags out there it's not even funny. Predominantly, that's what we're catching," Captain Les Achilles of Venture Out Charters in Cape Coral said.
Achilles said visitors love being able eat something they've caught themselves. It's a one-of-a-kind Florida experience he worries will be lost if state waters become off-limits for gag grouper fishing.
"You're affecting the livelihood of a lot of people," Achilles said.
FWC said Gulf Gag Grouper are overfished and need to be repopulated. Currently, there is an interim rule that has federal waters of the gulf closed to gag harvesting. It's a rule that will likely be extended through the end of the year. But scientists on the federal side think Florida can help. "They believe if Florida were to close its state waters beginning in June until the end of the year, then that would help the recovery enough that they'd be able to open up all the Gulf of Mexico for 2 months, from mid-September to to mid-November which would be really good for everybody," FWC Spokesperson Lee Schlesinger said.
But the Fishing Rights Alliance calls the Gag stock assessment "outdated" and "unreliable." They say $3 billion dollars in economic activity and more than 5,000 jobs will be lost permanently if state Gulf waters are closed to recreational anglers.
"If you've got valid research that says that and you know these fish are in an area that is mostly fished, then sure, close it down, or close that area down, but don't close the whole state down or the whole Gulf because of data you got in the Panhandle or the Keys," Achilles said.
The Fishing Rights Alliance wants the state to tell the feds to open up federal waters and demand a full stock assessment before any more closures take place. The results of the vote should be released by Wednesday afternoon.