GONE COASTAL: How saltwater fishing license add-ons help improve fisheries

By Amana Nalley, FWC

Snook, spiny lobster, reef fish, sharks from shore, blue crabs and stone crabs caught in traps: What do all these have in common? They each require a special add-on permit, designation or registration on your recreational fishing license.

Maybe you’ve heard of these specialty designations, some of which have been around since before the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) was created.

More:‘Crazy’ shark draws Okaloosa beachgoers’ attention (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

gone coastal

Others are fairly new, such as the State Reef Fish Angler designation, created in 2015 as the Gulf Reef Fish Angler designation and expanded statewide this year.

While there are many differences between these designations, one thing holds true for all: When anglers who participate in these fisheries sign up, they are helping improve these fisheries. In some cases, fishery managers and researchers can use some of this information to get a better idea of how many people participate in a fishery, leading to better fisheries management practices. These designations also create a pool of participants for FWC to reach out to for, let’s say, research surveys or to simply email relevant information to, such as when a regulation changes.

The snook and spiny lobster permits contribute to conservation by funding research and monitoring activities that help ensure these magnificent fisheries continue to thrive in Florida for generations to come.

Let’s talk about some of the more recent designations, why they are important and a few frequently asked questions.

State Reef Fish Angler

This designation was created to improve recreational fishing data statewide for several important reef fish species such as red snapper, gray triggerfish, hogfish and more as part of the State Reef Fish Survey. All anglers over 16 years of age (including those 65 and older) fishing from private recreational vessels (not for-hire operations such as charter boats) who target certain reef fish species are required to sign up for this no-cost designation each year. Anglers can sign up at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com or in-person at any location that sells licenses such as retailers, tackle shops and tax collectors. Once you are signed up, you could be randomly selected to receive a survey in the mail asking about your fishing trips during the past month.

If you receive the State Reef Fish Survey, it’s important to return it as soon as possible even if you didn’t fish during the past month. We want to hear from everyone! Learn more about the SRFS at MyFWC.com/SRFS.

Shore-based shark fishing permit

Created in 2019, this no-cost permit is required for anglers over 16 years of age (including those 65 and older) targeting or harvesting sharks when fishing from shore. Before getting the permit, anglers must take the Shore-based Shark-Smart Fishing educational course by visiting MyFWC.com/SharkCourse. Once the educational course is completed, anglers will receive a unique identification code that is needed to get their permit. This course and permit were created to address concerns and promote best fishing practices for shore-based shark fishing. The course must be taken and the permit renewed annually. Learn more by visiting MyFWC.com/Marine and clicking on “Recreational” and “Sharks” under the “Regulations by Species-General Species” tab.  

More:2,000-pound great white shark pings about 100 miles from Destin

Be sure to check the trap regulations before using a crab trap.

Recreational trap registration        

The blue crab and stone crab recreational trap registration program also began recently. Harvesters over 16 (including those 65 and older) who are using traps (think the large square traps, not baskets) for recreational use need to go to GoOutdoorsFlorida.com to register their traps annually. Once you register your traps, you will receive unique numbers that can be assigned to up to five traps. Traps must be legibly marked with the unique registration number as well as your name and address. This no-cost registration collects important participation information on the recreational blue crab and stone crab fisheries to help inform future stock assessments and management decisions by helping researchers figure out how many people are participating in the fishery. Harvesters under 16 are not required to register but still must mark their traps with their name and address.

Navigating GoOutdoorsFlorida.com

You can sign up or register for any of these designations by logging in or creating an account through the official FWC licensing site, GoOutdoorsFlorida.com. Even if you are exempt from a saltwater fishing license, you can still create an account to add these designations without purchasing a license. Once you sign in, click the large blue Purchase A License button on your home page (even if there is no cost for the designation). Then scroll down to the Saltwater Permits section, where all of these designations should be listed. Click add to cart and check out as normal. You also can add these designations by calling toll free at 888-FISH-FLORIDA (888-347-4356) or by downloading the Fish|Hunt Florida mobile app.

You asked, we are answering

Two of the most popular questions we receive about these designations are 1) Why do I need to sign up for this if I’m over 65 years of age? and 2) Why do I need to sign up for this annually, even if I have a lifetime license?

Let’s start with those over 65, who are required to sign up annually for all three of these designations if they are participating in these fisheries. More than 20 percent of Florida residents are 65 and over (in 2018, according to the U.S. Census Bureau). By including this group of recreational anglers, FWC can better understand these important fisheries by knowing how many participants are using these resources.

As for the annual sign-up requirement, these programs help us identify which anglers are possibly participating in a fishery and ensures contact information is current. Outdated, incomplete contact lists could lead to a misestimation of participants in a particular fishery, increasing the level of uncertainty around recreational catch estimates; therefore the annual sign-up is very important.

We realize this is one more thing to do before you dash out the door to enjoy Florida’s amazing fishing opportunities. We appreciate your time and commitment to Florida’s fisheries.

The quarterly Gone Coastal column is one of many ways that the FWC Division of Marine Fisheries Management is helping recreational anglers understand complex saltwater regulations and learn more about saltwater fishing opportunities and issues in Florida. We also aravailable to answer questions by phone or email anytime, and we would love the opportunity to share information through presentations with recreational or commercial fishing organizations. To contact the FWC’s Regulatory Outreach subsection, call 850-487-0554 or email Saltwater@MyFWC.com.

This Gone Coastal column was written by Amanda Nalley with the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission.