Before bringing fish home from the Bahamas, consider updated rules

There’s plenty of freebies to lure people to national parks

One of these days when the weather’s right, you must take your offshore boat over to Bimini or Freeport, catch a bunch of dolphin, wahoo, snapper and grouper, clean them on the way back and invite everyone you like to a big fish fry.

Not so fast, captain. Before you cast off for the Bahamas, you’d better know the freshly updated federal rules for bringing those fish home.

Lawyer not available? We can help: One main change is that you don’t have to wait until you’re back in port before cleaning and filleting the fish. You can do it on the way as long as you leave the entire skin on each fillet, so that they’ll still be identifiable if you’re stopped for inspection. For limit purposes, two fillets count as one fish.

Before, you had to leave the head and fins intact.

Another important part is that once you cross back from Bahamian to U.S. waters, it has to be a non-stop run with your rods and reels stowed. Take them out of the rod holders and put them away. No trolling U.S. waters on the way back to port, no fishing the last reef for one more thrill.

To prove you’ve been in the Bahamas, you and your crew will need to have stamped and dated passports, plus current Bahamian cruising and fishing permits.

Finally, you can’t sell any part of the catch, or let anyone else do it.

All that kind of spoils the spontaneity, doesn’t it?

If you still think you need a lawyer, or you enjoy reading regulations, here’s a link to all the details of both amendments, including background reports: l/generic/2015/dw7_sg33/index.html.

Mutton under mandates

The mutton snapper, a Florida favorite, is coming under scrutiny by the Fish and Wildlife Conservation (FWC) Commission, and that could mean changing regulations in the foreseeable future. Saltwater fishing-doers who want to influence whatever happens next should attend one of seven public workshops in February or catch an online webinar on Feb. 24.

Mutton snappers often are day-savers for offshore trollers who need to bring something home without stopping at a seafood store while still dressed in fishing togs. That licenses the embarrassing inference that they’ve gone out that day and been skunked.

Present regulations are easy-going: the minimum size for a keeper is 16 inches total length, nothing to brag about. You can keep 10 a day if you don’t keep any other snappers, because the aggregate snapper limit is 10 fish. One of the ideas being kicked around is reducing the mutton limit to three fish.

FWC also will conduct three barracuda workshops this month. The state enacted incomplete ’cuda regulations last November, with daily bag limits of two fish per person and six per boat, but no size limits. The meetings will give ’cuda catchers a chance to influence whatever rules FWC eventually adds.

There will also be one sea anemone workshop this month, on Tuesday Feb. 23 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Key Colony Beach city hall. Anemones are predatory marine plans that are popular with aquarium hobbyists, which is causing conservation concerns.

Here are the schedules for snapper and barracuda workshops to mid-month:

Mutton snapper
Monday, Feb. 1, 4-7 p.m., Hilton Garden Inn south of the airport at 180 SW 18th Ave., Dania Beach.
Tuesday, Feb. 2, 4-7 p.m., at Hawks Cay, 61 Hawks Cay Road, Duck Key.
Wednesday, Feb. 3, 4-7 p.m., at Key West Marriott Beachside Hotel, 3841 N. Roosevelt Blvd.
Thursday, Feb. 4, Feb. 4, 6-8 p.m., at Murray Nelson Government Center, 102050 Overseas Highway, Key Largo.

Monday, Feb. 22, 6-8 p.m., at Harvey Government Center, 1200 Truman Ave., Key West.
Wednesday, Feb. 24, 6-8 p.m., at Founders Community Center, 87000 Overseas Highway, Islamorada.
Thursday, Feb. 25, 6-8 p.m. at River Center in Burt Reynolds Park, 805 U.S 1, Jupiter.

For the rest of both schedules, go online to, then click on the links for saltwater, rulemaking and public workshops.

Artificial reef deadline

If your organization wants to build an artificial reef off the Florida coast or monitor the sea life attracted to one, you have an application deadline of March 18 at 5 p.m. The state expects to have about $600,000 in grant money available, with a max of $60,000 per project.

Eligible applicants are local governments of coastal cities and counties, public universities and nonprofits whose principle purposes include building and monitoring artificial reefs.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is supposed to contribute up to $300,000 in Sport Fish Restoration Program funds. The rest is to come from Florida saltwater fishing license revenues.

All the details and separate application forms for reef building and monitoring projects are online here:

Bass revisited

New and more simplified statewide bass fishing regulations are scheduled for enactment this month by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation (FWC) Commission. The plan, reported here in July 2014, is an outgrowth of the state’s Black Bass Management Plan.

The new rules, to take effect on July 16, drop the 12-inch minimum size for keeping largemouth bass. Fishing-doers are encouraged (not required) to keep smaller bass than they’re used to, and made to carefully let the bigger ones go so they can breed. They’ll be able to keep only one largemouth of 16 inches or longer.

FWC staff did a lot of research for two years — reviewing the effectiveness of existing rules, analyzing biological data, testing options with computer models, conducting 25 public workshops and doing online surveys for public input.

From more than 8,000 public responses, the agency counted 72 percent in favor of the pending rules and 20 percent opposed, FWC says. Right, that doesn’t add up to 100. Not everyone agreed or disagreed.

All the black bass species — Suwanee, shoal, Choctaw, spotted and largemouth — are included in the unchanged daily bag limit of five fish. That’s old. Here’s what is new:

Largemouth Bass — No minimum size limit. One fish per day may be 16 inches or longer in total length. Two new special regulations apply on Alabama border waters, the Perdido River and Lake Jackson. Special regulations in 42 locations are eliminated.

Suwannee, shoal, Choctaw and spotted bass: 12-inch minimum size limit. One 16-inch or longer fish may be kept per day. There will be a conservation zone on the Chipola River where shoal bass are designated for catch and release only.

Freebies at parks

The best things in parks are free. All 409 national park units will waive admission charges for National Park Week, April 16-24. That’s not all. It happens again Aug. 25-28, for the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary, Sept. 24 for National Public Lands Day and Nov. 11 for Veterans Day.

Even that’s not all. In Everglades National Park, entry will be free for the sixth annual Vintage Everglades Day celebration on Sunday, March 12 at the south-of-Homestead entrance and for participants in Junior Ranger Day on Saturday, April 2.

Ordinarily, Everglades charges entrance fees of $20 per car at two locations — the main visitor center south of Homestead and the Shark Valley Loop Road outpost on Tamiami Trail. On fee-free days, those will be costless.

Another way to get in free at the Homestead entrance is to ride the guided tours aboard the Homestead National Parks Trolley every weekend through May 1, 2016. (For more info please visit: or call (305) 224-4457.) The Gulf Coast entrance in

Everglades City is free year round.

The $10 admission fee to Dry Tortugas National Park will be waived on the fee-free days, but it will still cost money to ride the water and air services to it from Key West.

Fourth graders and their families also have free access to all federal public lands in America for a full year, in a program called Every Kid in a Park.

The websites and will give you a lot more information. For travel details, click on the “plan your visit” links.