State Reef Fish Survey


The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) recently released information about a new initiative to count the amount of fish released and harvested by recreational anglers from all offshore waters of Florida. This new initiative is called the State Reef Fish Survey and goes into effect on July 1, 2020. This is actually an extension and rename of the already successful Gulf Reef Fish Survey that’s been in effect since 2015 on the Gulf coast. The survey worked well enough that FWC decided to extend it statewide.


All recreational offshore anglers, including those over 65 years of age, that fish for certain reef species in Gulf, Atlantic, and Monroe County waters will be required to sign up by July 1st. The registration is free and is added to an existing fishing license. Each month a group of State Reef Fish Anglers will be mailed a short survey about their fishing trips.

Shortly after the release of this news my email and text line lit up with questions about my take on the validity of this survey.

I’m pretty sure it’s common knowledge that fishermen are notorious liars. Let’s just say we all tend to exaggerate just a bit. When asked how big the fish was the usual reply is, with hands and arms spread, “Oh, about this big.”

And there’s more proof. The sign above Bass Pro Shops in Fort Myers reads “Welcome Fishermen, Hunters, And Other Liars.”

Most anglers take this ribbing in stride and readily admit that some fishing stories are ‘stretched’ a bit, especially over cigars and a few rum libations. But those tall tales can also get the fishing community in a bind.

Many years ago when recreational fishermen returned from the water, they were often greeted at the dock by someone with a pad and pen in hand. Survey takers for a couple of organizations were trying to assess the number of both inshore and offshore game fish that were caught. Fishermen being what they were, huge exaggerators, would answer survey questions sort of like this.

How many anglers were fishing today? “There were four of us.” How many seatrout did you catch on today’s trip? “Oh, a bunch. Yeah, a whole lot.” Can you give me a number? “No, not exactly, but it was a lot. Maybe 30.” The survey taker would mark down 30 seatrout caught, even though it was probably much less. You can imagine how this caused big problems with the fishing scientists and lawmakers that were trying to control overfishing of gamefish.

Not long after the first round of dock surveys were completed, new fishing rules were put in place. Anglers were perplexed. They couldn’t understand why some of their favorite food fish were suddenly being highly regulated. Needless to say, fishing folks didn’t take kindly to the new rules and blamed the scientists for shutting down certain species that seemed to be doing just fine. Simply put, bad data in equals bad data out. Recreational anglers had no one to blame but themselves. Word got around in the fishing community about what had happened and instead of stopping the exaggerations and lies, anglers simply stopped volunteering to answer the surveyors.

 Fast forward to 2015. FWC announced the Gulf Reef Fish Survey. All offshore Gulf of Mexico reef anglers were told it was mandatory to sign up at no additional cost and have this designation added to their fishing license. It’s understandable that a good many fishermen were a bit gun-shy about this new rule, but in the long run it turned out to be a good thing.

Once again anglers were surveyed and asked about their reef catches and releases. This time it seems they mostly told the truth. Over the next five years rule changes started to happen that began to fall in favor of the anglers. One reef species in particular was red snapper. The rules several years ago were draconian for recreational anglers. Fishing for red snapper was only open on a few weekends each year, however this upcoming season’s opening runs 45 days from June 11th through July 25th.

 Not fibbing seems to have its advantages.

 Find more information about the State Reef Fish Survey registration and requirements by going online to Click on Recreational Regulations.