Saltwater finfish size limits are expressed in Total Length and Fork Length.

Clarification was approved for the definition of Total Length at the December 2005 Commission meeting. The rule is effective July 1, 2006.

Why did we make this change?

Previously, FWC rules did not consistently state how to obtain total length, leaving this measurement open to interpretation by anglers and law enforcement officers. This modification should provide ease of measurement for anglers and ease of enforcement of size limits.

Anglers have also asked for consistency between marine fish and freshwater fish measurements as well as with the federal definition for total length. Better compliance with our regulations should result because visiting anglers from nearby states are currently instructed to measure total length by squeezing the tail in their home states, including Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, Georgia and North Carolina. Thus, this method is already familiar to them, and this could foster compliance with our regulations by out-of-state anglers. Also, many Florida saltwater anglers had already been measuring total length with a pinched tail, thus for these people there will be no change in method.

What species will be affected by the change?

Only species that are currently measured as total length will be affected. Species measured as fork length will not be affected.

Why did we change gray triggerfish to fork length?

Federal rules currently state that gray triggerfish should beSaltFishMeasure_GrayTriggerFish_F.jpg measured as total length. However, their definition of total length specifies that tail filaments should be excluded, which is essentially a fork length measurement. Anglers often include the tail filaments in the measurement of total length for gray triggerfish, which is allowing them to harvest fish that are below the intended 12-inch size limit. Changing the measurement of gray triggerfish to fork length will also allow gray triggerfish to be measured similarly to hogfish, which are currently measured as fork length and have similar tail filament types.

How do I measure fish that have ragged-edge type tail filaments, such as scamp, yellowmouth grouper, or black sea bass?

For fish that have "ragged-edge" type filaments, these "pieces" of the tail should be included in the measurement of total length, which is implied by stating that the fish be measured to the "farthest tip of the tail" in the definition for total length.

Is there a change to sheepshead measurement?

Sheepshead and flounder are included in the same rule (68B-48, Florida Administrative Code). This rule lists a size limit of 12 inches total length for sheepshead and flounder. However, "length" was previously defined as "from the most forward point of the head to the rear center edge of the tail". This was a total length measure for flounder since they have a convex tail, but this was a fork length measurement for sheepshead since they have a slightly forked tail. However, the rule stated that sheepshead should be measured as total length. This inconsistency was part of the reason we needed to modify our rules. Thus, under the new definition sheepshead should be measured as total length with a squeezed tail. 

What effect will this clarification have on fish stocks?

For species (measured as total length) with a flat or rounded tail (red drum, spotted seatrout, and tripletail) there will be little change since minimal length is gained by squeezing the tail on those species. For species with a concave or "forked" tail (measured as total length) the new interpretation will only have a small impact, but the overall effect on the stock will be negligable. Also, the new interpretation will only affect anglers who had been interpreting total length to mean total length-relaxed (unsqueezed tail).

What effect will this clarification have on snook stocks?

If you were not squeezing the tail before, there is approximately a 0.77-inch difference between a relaxed tail and a squeezed tail. However, because of the variation in size-at-age, squeezing the tail will have a small effect on the overall snook stock. Due to public concern about the status of snook stocks, the FWC voted at its June 2006 Commission meeting to shift the snook slot from 26 - 34 inches to 27 - 34 inches in order to negate any potential negative effects on snook stocks. This shift will result in a 22-percent harvest reduction on the Gulf coast and a 12-percent reduction on the Atlantic coast according to the most recent snook stock assessment. The change is predicted to result in an increase in spawning potential ratio (SPR) by 7 percent on the Gulf coast and 5 percent on the Atlantic coast. 

Should you pinch the tail at both ends of the slot for fish that have a slot limit?

Yes.

Does this change apply to freshwater fish also?

The Division of Freshwater Fisheries Management measures all regulated fish using a total length measurement with a squeezed tail.

History of Finfish Measurement in Florida

The state of Florida has wrestled with how to measure saltwater finfish since 1925. In 1925 the Legislature first enacted length measurements for marine finfish. Many different methods have been used over the years (1925-1973) including: tip of nose to fork of tail, tip of nose to tip of tail, tip of nose to end of tail, and tip of nose to rear center edge of tail. At any one time, one or all of these definitions were used. In the late 1980s both a total length and a fork length size limit were listed in rule for some species. By the mid 1990s, only one measure was chosen for most species primarily based on the way federal regulations specified how the species should be measured.

Why aren't all fish measured by a single method?

At the present time most of the regulated species in Florida are measured by either a total length or fork length method. The method chosen depends on the shape of the tail and primarily on the consistency with federal regulations. Consistency with federal regulations is very important for the enforcement of state and federal size limits.

If you have further questions please contact the Division of Marine Fisheries Management at 850-487-0554.



FWC Facts:
Fish Camp is a week-long program where kids are emerged in fun activities that teach aquatic education, conservation, stewardship, safe boating and paddling, and of course fishing.

Learn More at AskFWC