Florida has a fantastic history of fishing, and an array of fish in the Gulf of Mexico and off the Atlantic coast including the Florida Keys with no equal. This fishery has drawn tens of thousands of tourist and put millions into the state of Florida coffers in taxes and billions into shopkeepers, hotels, restaurants, car rentals etc. Why would it ever end?
When spotted sea trout, the first fish to be officially counted in Florida went down from great abundance in the 1940’s and 1950’s to all time lows in the 1960’s, along with the red grouper on the Gulf coast of Florida, some anglers became concerned. They formed an association called the Florida League of anglers (FLA). They went to the Florida Department of Natural Resources, (DNR) the then officiating saltwater office of the day, asking for the statistics and discussed what could be done.
At this point, it was discovered that the only fish any records had been kept were the spotted sea trout. None of the other species were tabulated. The last several years of statistics available showed a great decline in landings of spotted sea trout. These stats were transferred into charts by FLA and were horrendous. Also, local anglers knew that the red grouper that once was the mainstay of the grouper market up through the 1960’s was all but depleted within 20 miles of the coastline. in the 1970’s out to 40-60 feet off Tarpon Springs to St. Petersburg. In 1960’s red grouper wholesaled for .10 cents a pound those days. During this time, enter the electronic fish finder and scores of more fishermen.
The then head of the DNR Elton Gisendanner, Sat down with the FLA Executive director (yours truly) and discussed the problems. At that time, the DNR was operating in concert with the commercial fishing industry. The DNR and Florida Fish and game commission along with the FLA, worked out rules to bring back both the trout and red grouper fisheries.
Catch limits and size limits were initiated and the red grouper came back to a point. However, due to lack of manpower for enforcement, the over abundance of anglers, commercial fish traps in the Gulf, and the red tide disasters of the day, the red grouper never made it back to the shallows off the Tampa Bay Area. The problem of fish traps was also addressed and the removal of fish traps accomplished. This was aided in part by efforts of the FLA by bringing the problem to the electorate. Thereby the removal of fish traps from Florida state waters was also successful.
Thanks to the Florida Fish and Game Commission, the trout catches thrived, making the spotted sea trout once again, the most sought after game fish. Of course, during this process we must always remember that all fisheries are cyclical. Due to the discourse of nature, stocks ebb and flow naturally.
In the meantime, about the time all this happened, in the mid to late 1970’s the Gulf Coast Council was formulated, along with the Atlantic Council and others. These were to be the scientific arm of the governing body that was then the National Marine fisheries, which was eventually put into the hands of NOAA.
Bear in mind also, that the governing forces in Federal waters were born of and directed by commercial fishing entities. That is how the National Marine fisheries service was born, as a tool of the commercial fisheries. Their goal was to maximize catches just short of a decline. Great meetings were held and beautiful charts were formulated to show all this. However, the catch all you can mentality was still most prevalent for years to come.