Spearing hogfish is a popular pastime along South Florida's reef. So popular, in fact, that by April more than 220,000 pounds of hogfish had been caught along the Atlantic coast.
That's almost three times the limit for the entire year so when federal fisheries managers received the data, they moved to close the recreational harvest as of Monday (Aug. 24).
"We've had these annual catch limits in place for several years now and we've never closed the recreational sector for hogfish before," said Jack McGovern, a fisheries biologist with NOAA Fisheries. "It was a surprise."
The closure applies to the area managed by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, from North Carolina to Florida.
Most hogfish are caught using spearguns.The fish are reef fish, like snappers and groupers, and are popular for eating.
The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council will likely start looking at changing the rules for hogfish, including trip and size limits. For now, the recreational limit is five per person and the fish must be at least 12 inches long.
The recreational season in the Atlantic will re-open Jan. 1. It remains legal to catch hogfish in state waters, up to three miles out, and in Gulf waters.