After a two-month closure, the season for shallow-water grouper — which includes black, red, yellowfin, scamp and yellowmouth but not gag — reopened April 1 in the Gulf of Mexico.
Gag grouper season remains closed until July 1 in most areas off the Florida coast except for state waters off Franklin, Wakulla, Jefferson and Taylor counties. That includes all waters of the Steinhatchee River, Apalachicola Bay and Indian Pass. This area closes June 30.
The local gag season lasts until the recreational quota has been met. Federal fishery managers expect that to be between Nov. 11 and Dec. 3. State waters off Monroe County are included with the Atlantic seasons and are currently closed to harvest through April 30.
If you catch a grouper out of season, its chances of survival are good if you release it properly. Studies have shown that using a dehooking device increases a fish's chance of survival, regardless of species. That's why federal and state officials require anglers on any vessel in the Gulf of Mexico to carry and use dehooking devices.
What is a dehooking device? Any tool designed to remove a hook embedded in a fish. Acceptable tools include blunt-nosed pliers, alligator pliers and dehooking forceps. A device that grabs the line, slides down and gets the hook out quickly is preferred because it minimizes damage to the fish.
If the fish has swallowed the hook, it's sometimes better to cut the line as close to the hook as possible. A nonstainless steel hook, which is required, rusts out in just a few days.
A venting tool is also required. When a grouper is brought up from the depths, the gas in the swim bladder can expand and cause injury. In general, fish caught in 50 feet of water or deeper may need to be vented. A fish needs to be vented if it is floating or has trouble swimming down to the bottom. A sure sign is when the fish's stomach is distended from its mouth.