Fishing Regulations in Florida You Should Know

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Florida, the “fishing capital of the world,” boasts a $5.7 billion fishing industry. Fishing is a hobby, sport, and career for thousands of people in the Sunshine State. While Florida welcomes fishermen and permits the recreational and commercial fishing of many different species, the state legislature asks that fishermen obey certain rules and regulations. If you plan on catching anything in Florida this year, brush up on your knowledge of fishing laws before you get into deep water with the law.

Atlantic Coast vs. Gulf Coast Species Regulations

Florida’s government regulates recreational saltwater fishing in state waters. State waters extend nine nautical miles on the Gulf and three on the Atlantic. Beyond the breadth of state waters, fishermen must comply with federal waterway rules. Different recreational fishing laws apply depending on whether you’re on the Atlantic or Gulf Coast. Florida Sportsman overviews both sets of laws in detail, where you’ll find lists of the most popular fish species along with rules for minimum length and daily bag amounts. Here are a few examples from the Atlantic rules:

  • Minimum length: 20” F. Daily bag: 10/angler, 60/boat.
  • No minimum length. Daily bag: 100/boat from February to August, 50/boat from September to January.
  • Minimum length: 28-32” T. Daily bag: 1. Season closed from December 15th-January 31st as well as from June 1st to August 31st.

All popular species come with regulations in terms of size and the number allowed per vessel/fishermen. Always adhere to these rules, as well as to seasonal fishing guidelines for certain species. Otherwise, you could find yourself facing criminal penalties, fines, and even potential jail time for breaking Florida’s fishing regulations. You must also have an up-to-date freshwater or saltwater fishing license unless you qualify as an exemption.

Penalties for Breaking Fishing Regulations in Florida

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) takes the state’s fishing regulations seriously. It does not tolerate people who intentionally break the law and keep illegal species, catches that are too small, or species that are off-season. Recently, FWC officers took action against two fishermen in Marathon, Florida for illegally catching lobster off-season.

Silva Marcelo and Oliveira Nunes each face 45 counts of conservation law violations for catching lobsters in May. Lobsters are not in season in the Florida Keys until August 6th. FWC officers found 20 lobsters (18 of which were undersize) in the bed of the fishermen’s truck and 32 more in a cooler in their hotel room. Six of the lobsters in the bed of the truck had punctured carapaces, despite spearfishing for lobster being against the law. Local police booked both men into the county jail.

Breaking Florida’s fishing regulations by harvesting the wrong species, keeping undersize/oversize fish, or fishing without a license could result in fines and jail time, as well as suspension of a fishing license. Rule breakers may need to obtain licenses and pay civil penalties, as well as appear before the court and potentially serve time in the county jail. The consequences will vary depending on the severity of the infraction.

Tip: Purchase an Official Lawstick or Lawsticker

One of the easiest ways to make sure your catches are keepers is to purchase official lawsticks and lawstickers. These are measuring devices with quick references for species types and required lengths. Bring the lawstick with you on fishing excursions to easily find out whether or not your fish meets the minimum (but doesn’t exceed the maximum) length for a fish you can actually keep. Otherwise, you’ll have to throw the fish back to avoid penalties.

The Atlantic and the Gulf have different lawsticks and lawstickers, or you can purchase a device that combines them if you plan on fishing both sides of the state. Keep in mind that fishing regulations can change periodically. Stay updated with the latest information by checking online or contacting fishery management agencies before you grab your fishing pole.