If You Fish, Know the Rules
By Capt. Mel Berman, 970-WFLA

** We had just launched our boat. At the dock were two young men, fishing gear strewn all over the place. The one lad looked a bit agitated. What’s happening? I asked. My buddy caught a snook and got the hook deep in his hand.  I could see the lad struggling to remove the uncomfortably imbedded hook. Beside him on the dock was another creature in trouble. The small snook he caught was flipping and flopping frantically in a vain effort to return to the safety of the water.

I feel for your friend, but he should put that snook back right away before it dies, I suggested. Ya mean we can’t keep it? he asked.

Well first of all, it’s July and snook season is closed until September first. I advised. And second of all, even in season, that snook would be way too small to keep. I’ll be darned, replied the lad, I though you could keep them this time of year.

Well, do yourself, your friend and that poor little snook a favor, Get it back in the water before it dies or FWC Enforcement shows up. If they do, that could be a very expensive fish that you’d never get to keep, I suggested.

This encounter led me to wonder how many folks have absolutely no clue as to closed seasons, size and bag limits. How many fish are wasted or illegally taken each and every day. And what can we who care about a vibrant and viable fishery, do about these uninformed or possibly knowing rule breaking fishers.

Unfortunately, the state of Florida has been quite miserly with funds for enforcement. Too few FWC officers patrol too large an area to keep tabs on these kinds of violators. Therefore, I believe that it is up to each an every one of us who cares about the viability of our resources to speak up as I did.

This should never be done in a hostile or scolding manner. Just educate and inform the offending party that what they are doing is against the law, is harmful to our fishery and could possibly result in a heavy fine. We should at least point them in the right direction for compliance. And, if those folks really knew the regs, but took the fish anyhow — they will now be aware that there are others watching their misdeeds.

Of course, if you see any kind of truly major violation someone with a cooler full of reds, or several dead oversize snook, some outlaws using a gillnet, etc. the best thing to do would be to use your cell phone and call local or state enforcement. (Call the FWC Toll Free number: 1-888-404-3932.)

After you do, get the tag and FL numbers; write down a description of the boat — a name if any is on it — and a some idea of what the perpetrators look like. Then when enforcement arrives, there will be something for them to go on.

Remember, you?re not doing it to be a snitch. You are there to protect the resource that we all enjoy — while helping to preserve it for future generations.

Familiarize yourself with the regulations on all the target species in our waters so that you can not only fish within the law, but also be able to advise others who might be confused or unaware of the regs.

Learn how to handle and safely release fish especially the more delicate species like sea trout. Always remember that a fish is suffocating the entire time its out of the water. So get it back into its watery domain as soon a possible. Many conservation minded anglers never take the fish out of the water shooting their photos and removing the hook what that critter is still in its own environment.

Also, never ever hold fish especially larger ones vertically. Mother Nature designed these creatures to spend their entire lives in a horizontal position. Thus, when held vertically, a lot of harm can be done to the fish’s inner structure and organs.

One final issue would be our own conduct. I know there are limits that one can take when the fishing gets good, but try to limit your catch to only what you might need for dinner. It is not a requirement that you feed the neighborhood –although some times it’s a nice gesture to bring a fillet or two to an elderly person or a shut in.

I know a lot of you might be saying, hey Mel, it’s just a lousy fish! Lighten up!? But that lousy fish and the millions of others that inhabit our waters provide so much to our lives that we should all be the stewards of our fishery making sure that fish we’re lucky enough to catch survive the release experience.

As my good friend Capt. Woody Gore often says, the fish are my partners. I gotta take good care of them.