Several changes to the recreational and commercial management of swordfish in state waters were approved by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) at the Nov. 21 meeting in Weston.
Swordfish management is a success story. Swordfish was overfished in the 1980s and ’90s, but has since been fully rebuilt, thanks to domestic and international conservation measures.
Recently, NOAA Fisheries Highly Migratory Species Division created a new open-access commercial swordfish fishery in federal waters to provide additional commercial swordfish harvest opportunities.
Changes to state rules approved by the Commission will allow fishermen who participate in this new commercial fishery to land and sell their catch in Florida. Additional changes include designating swordfish as a restricted species and specifying hook and line as allowable gear for swordfish harvest in state waters. Several changes to state rules are also consistent with existing federal rules, including a change to the cleithrum-to-keel (see below) minimum size limit for recreational and commercial swordfish harvest.
Changes affecting commercial harvest include:
- Designating swordfish as a restricted species.
- Exempting commercial harvesters who possess a Swordfish General Commercial permit or a Highly Migratory Species Charter/Headboat permit (when not on a for-hire trip) from the recreational bag and vessel limits. Permit holders must abide by HMS regional vessel limits.
- Allowing the sale of commercially caught swordfish under these permits.
- Closing state waters to commercial harvest if adjacent federal waters are closed.
- Requiring wholesale dealers purchasing swordfish to possess a valid federal Atlantic Swordfish Dealer permit. This change affects wholesale dealers in both the Atlantic and Gulf.
- Allowing transit of swordfish through state waters when harvested in federal waters with gear that is legal to use in federal waters.
Changes that affect commercial and recreational harvest:
- Modifying the minimum cleithrum-to-keel (CK) limit from 29 to 25 inches for all harvesters. The cleithrum is the bony area right behind the gill slit, and the keel is the horizontal ridge right before the tail fin (see photo). There is no change to the lower jaw fork length measurement also used when measuring swordfish.
- Restricting gear to hook and line in state waters.
- Clarifying federal rule references.
Changes will go into effect as soon as possible. Another public notice will be issued to announce when these changes will take effect.