Anyone who has been fortunate enough to hook a permit on fly or spinning gear will tell you, they’re the Queen of the Flats. The Florida Keys are home to the continental United States’ healthiest permit fishery, and a shortened off-season at Western Dry Rocks is putting the troubled fish population in danger.
Permit from all over the Middle and Lower Keys return each spring to Western Dry Rocks to participate in the annual spawn. Like most freshwater and saltwater species, spawning time is especially dangerous for them.
The well-known Bonefish and Tarpon Trust has provided substantial evidence to show that a seasonal four-month fishing closure at Western Dry Rocks is necessary in order for the Keys fishery to thrive. This proposed fishing closure in the spring of each year has made its way all the way up to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, who made a potentially lethal edit to the original plan: Cut the off-season in half.
A two-month fishing closure at Western Dry Rocks would be an improvement from no off-season for permit, but it isn’t enough. The Bonefish and Tarpon Trust offers valuable insight as to why.
For example, permit aren’t the only springtime spawners at Western Dry Rocks. Mutton, snapper and grouper also occupy the shoal around the same time. To ensure a quality long-term saltwater fishery in the Florida Keys, they need to have their space while creating the next generations of fish.
Some studies even reported that nearly 40% of all fish hooked at Western Dry Rocks were eaten by sharks while on the line, making catch and release practices nearly redundant.
Granted, a four-month fishing closure is a long time, but Western Dry Rocks is less than 2 square miles. A simple request to protect the spawning grounds of Florida’s saltwater sportfish’s spawning grounds while they reproduce is necessary, and the offered two months is half of what they need. Half is not enough.
For the sake of the Florida Keys permit, you are encouraged to voice your support for a longer closure by writing to the FWC here. Every comment counts!
Learn about how you can support the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust here.
Ryan Rintala | Social Media @mattheronflyfishing