In a state where it feels like summer all year long, it's important to know that fishing is closely regulated with restrictions imposed during certain “seasons.”
Florida’s recreational saltwater fishing is governed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. They publish on their website many detailed regulations that govern recreational (non-commercial) fishing in Florida’s state waters. There are also federally regulated waters adjacent to Florida, on both the Gulf and Atlantic sides, which are governed by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council and the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council respectively. There may also be more restrictive regulations imposed by local cities and counties, such as Monroe County’s regulations regarding the waters around the Florida Keys. All of these regulatory bodies can make saltwater fishing in Florida a little complicated. Fortunately freshwater fishing in Florida does not currently have a “closed season,” so it is only saltwater fishing that seasons can affect.
Species Affected By Seasonal Restrictions
Many species of shellfish and crustaceans are recreationally fished in Florida. Stone crabs, spiny (Florida) lobster and bay scallops are regulated by the state to reduce overfishing.
Bay scallops this year are open for harvesting in a regionally sliding window that varies from June to September, depending on where you are.
Stone crabs are off limits from mid-May to mid-October.
Lobster season closes at the beginning of April and reopens at the beginning of August.
Greater amberjack, gag grouper, permit, red snapper, snook, and grey triggerfish are also seasonally closed to recreational fishing.
Greater amberjack are open to fish during the months of May, August, September, and October.
Gag grouper are generally open for fishing June through December, except in Franklin, Wakulla, Taylor, and Jefferson counties, where they are open April through June, closed July and August, and reopen through December.
Red Snapper are closed to all fishing except mid-June to mid-July.
Snook are open to fish March and April, as well as September through November.
Grey triggerfish are open March through May and August through December.
Permits are considered open year round, except in a special closure zone south of Cape Florida and Cape Sable, where they are closed to allow spawning from April through July. It's vital if fishing any of the above species to know when you are allowed to do so.
Species Not Affected By Seasonal Restrictions
Although these seasonal closures are significant, there are a number of recreational species that are not affected by seasonal restrictions.
Bonefish (catch and release only)
Black and red drum
Hogfish (hog snapper)
King and Spanish mackerel
Mullet (cannot be caught with hook and line)
African and Florida pompano
Black sea bass
Some species of sharks
Snapper species (except red snapper)
Red, black, yellowfin and yellowmouth grouper
Although not seasonally restricted, Goliath Grouper, Nassau Grouper, Queen Conch, Prohibited Sharks, Sturgeon, and Spotted Eagle Ray are prohibited all year.
Know the local laws and fish within them to avoid steep fines, seizure of equipment or possibly even criminal charges.