When a Fish Trap Isn’t a Fish Trap

I’m interested in setting a pinfish trap, but unsure of the rules and regulations that might apply in the Gulf of Mexico. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission website is difficult to navigate and calling on the phone to get an answer about specific rules and regulations is even more challenging. Can you tell me what I need to know before tossing a pinfish trap overboard? – Adam Scott


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As simple as it could be to manage Florida’s wide ranging fisheries, it’s amazing how difficult the governing bodies make it for recreational and commercial anglers to understand and decipher the ambiguous verbiage. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, pinfish, among many other species like bonito, barracuda, cero mackerel, blackfin tuna and jack crevalle, have no specific regulations and are designated as unregulated species. However, the FWC also states that for all unregulated species it is illegal to use chemicals, explosives, electricity, bang sticks or fish traps for harvest.

Recreational anglers have been setting traps to catch pinfish for decades, but the rule clearly reads that a fish trap is an illegal method for the harvest of unregulated species. After a few phone calls to the powers at be, we were informed that even though a wire mesh pinfish trap is clearly a trap used to capture finfish, the FWC does not consider these specific traps to be fish traps.

With that being said, trapping pinfish is completely legal, but your trap cannot exceed 24 inches in any dimension or have a volume greater than 8 cubic feet. Additionally, the trap’s entrance cannot exceed 3 inches in height by ¾ inches in width. You can also set as many traps as you’d like. The default bag limit for unregulated species is two fish or 100 pounds per person per day, whichever is more, so with small statured pinfish it would be practically impossible for a recreational harvester to limit out.

Although you’ll need to confirm with the specific rules and regulations that apply within national parks and marine sanctuaries, in all other circumstances you are good to go unless your trap is set within a navigable channel. While it is a great idea to attach a float or some form of contact information to your trap, it is only a recommendation.

When it comes time to set your pinfish trap, look for areas with healthy grass and tidal movement. You can expect to see results in as little as two hours, but it’s best to let your trap soak for at least 24 hours. Although they are called pinfish traps, it’s possible for a variety of finfish to be captured, and any protected and regulated species accidentally trapped must be released unharmed. While you can certainly catch a handful of pinfish with a sabiki rig or #2 gold hook tipped with shrimp or squid, a pinfish trap set in a likely area will produce a whole lot of bait with relatively little effort.

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