BILOXI, Miss. (AP) — The most frequently caught fish in the Gulf of Mexico will soon be off limits to part-time fishermen who sell their catches for extra cash, but that's good news for full-timers.
In 2012, the Commission on Marine Resources approved a rule affecting spotted seatrout that will go into effect May 1.
In order to get a special permit to catch the fish, fishermen with a Commercial Hook and Line license will have to show proof they make at least $5,000 in any 12 consecutive months and 10 percent of their yearly income from catching and selling seafood. As proof they may show sales records or an income tax statement signed or prepared by a tax professional and notarized.
Department of Marine Resources spokeswoman Melissa Scallan said the rule was needed because a lot of recreational fishermen were buying commercial licenses and selling their catches.
"Because there were so many fishermen doing this, getting the license and selling the seatrout, it made us reach the quota early in the season," she said.
She said the quota would be filled by March or April, and there wouldn't be seatrout available to restaurants for the tourist season during the summer.
The number of commercial licenses jumped from 62 in 2001 to 455 in 2013, according to a study ordered to analyze the rule's economic impact.
When the rule was created in 2012 there was a commercial quota of 35,000 seatrout, but it has since been upped to 50,000.
Even though more fish are being caught, the amount is spread out among more people. The number of commercial landings, or catches, reached a 10-year high of 61,099 pounds in 2012 though the number of landings per fishing vessel and per fisherman has steadily declined.
"The proposed rule will enable the fishermen to receive higher average shares of the spotted seatrout fishery," the study stated.
F.J. Eicke with the Coastal Conservation Association Mississippi, a recreational fishing group, said full-time fishermen who typically fish for multiple species year-round should have no issue with the rule, but part-timers would be affected.
"We much, much prefer that our members not be commercial fishermen, that they be recreational," he said.
Greg Holmes of Gulfport, a part-time fisherman, will not be able after May 1 to sell the spotted seatrout he catches.
"My fishing partner and I are both over 60 and limited to the times we can get out to fish due to the roughness of the Sound," he said. "We need 1 foot or less wave action to fish to keep from getting beat up in the boat; $5,000 (in sales) is out of the question."
He said to supplement their regular jobs, the two make a couple thousand dollars from fishing.
Until 2012, Mississippi had no restrictions on spotted seatrout, also known as speckled seatrout, making it the Gulf state with the fewest regulations for the fish.
Florida's rules are comparable and include a $5,000 income restriction, but the state has exceptions for seniors and veterans. In Louisiana, fishermen must prove at least 50 percent of income comes from capture and sale of seafood.
Information from: The Sun Herald, http://www.sunherald.com