Fishing can sometimes be famine, but on the days when it is feast, it’s important to know your bag limit, aka the number of fish you can keep and take home for dinner. These limits are a useful tool in helping protect many of our recreationally important species. There are several types of bag limits and, sometimes more than one type applies. Some even vary by region (spotted seatrout, red drum, weakfish and bay scallops).
“Bag limit” is defined as the number of a particular species that an individual angler can harvest and possess in a given day. For example, the recreational bag limit for red drum in the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) northeast and northwest management zones is two fish per person, per day. This means that a licensed (or exempt) angler can harvest two red drum in a given day. This does not mean that you have to stop fishing after you have put two fish in the box. You can enjoy catch-and-release fishing for the rest of the day. Just make sure that you are using proper catch-and-release techniques to help the released fish survive.
Another common term is “vessel limit,” which is the maximum number of a particular species that can be possessed on a vessel at any given time. Vessel limits are always used in addition to individual bag limits and do not exempt any single angler from the individual limits. As an example, the rules for red drum provide a statewide vessel limit of eight fish that is used in conjunction with the individual bag limits of two fish in the northern regions and one fish in the south region. This means that no more than eight red drum can be possessed on a vessel even if you have five or more licensed anglers on board in the north regions or nine or more anglers on board in the south region.
Let’s say you are fishing in one of the two northern regions and your daily individual bag limit is two fish. If there are two anglers on the boat, there can be no more than four fish on board; three anglers can have a total of six fish; but four or more anglers can have no more than eight fish altogether.
That’s pretty straightforward if you understand that both the individual bag limit and the vessel limit apply simultaneously.
One question that always comes up is, “Can one angler share his or her fish to help fill a bag limit for another angler?” The answer is no. Bag limits are individual even when an overlapping vessel limit applies. This keeps folks from taking, for example, their infant nephew fishing just so they can keep two more fish. But, you may ask, if an FWC law enforcement officer checks my cooler, how will he or she know who caught how many fish? If an officer’s observations, inspection or investigation reveals you have caught more than your individual daily bag limit, you could be subject to fines.
A third type of bag limit that you will see in FWC rules is an aggregate bag limit. Like your basic bag limit, this type applies to individual anglers but instead of applying to only one species, it applies to several closely related species. Snappers and groupers are currently managed with aggregate limits in Florida waters.
Let’s use snapper as our example. Currently, there is a 10-snapper aggregate bag limit in Florida waters. This means that you can harvest up to 10 snapper regardless of what individual species they are, as long as they are included in the aggregate. Keep in mind, this aggregate limit applies to most, but not all, species of snapper.
Read the regulations carefully. Vermilion snapper, for example, is not included in the 10-snapper aggregate bag limit. It has its own bag limit of 10 fish per angler, per day in the Gulf and five per angler, per day in the Atlantic. This means that if you are fishing in state waters of the Gulf, you can keep an individual bag limit of vermilion snapper plus your aggregate limit of 10 other snappers in any combination of species that are included in the aggregate.
The other nuance that should be pointed out is that some snappers that are included within the aggregate limit also have individual bag limits. For example, red snapper has a two-fish bag limit and gray snapper has a five-fish bag limit. Both species are counted as part of the 10-snapper aggregate. So, if anglers caught their two red snapper and their five gray snapper, they could still bring home three more snapper included in the aggregate, as long as the three were not additional gray or red snappers.
There are two more types of bag limits you should know about: the spiny lobster onshore possession limit and the red drum transportation limit.
The spiny lobster possession limit applies during the two-day sport season in late June and limits an individual angler to no more than a daily bag limit of lobster on the first day of the sport season and no more than two daily bag limits onshore on the second day of the sport season. This limit clarifies that bag limits are “daily” and allows folks who are taking advantage of both days of the sport season to take their two-day catch home.
For red drum, no more than six fish per person can be transported by vehicle on land. If I’m fishing with three or more of my buddies and we catch our vessel limit of eight red drum, I can take as many as six of those in my truck back to my house if I’m traveling in the truck by myself. If one of my buddies is traveling with me to my house, we can take all eight fish. (That is, if my buddies decide I should have the fish. But because I’m such a great cook, I’m sure they would.) This limit helps deter attempts to sell red drum, which can only be harvested for recreational purposes.