Amberjacks are managed as two separate stocks by two different federal agencies: one for the Gulf of Mexico and one for the waters of the South Atlantic. Both have what are optimistically called “reconstruction plans.” Scientific name: Carangoides bartholomaei (Cuvier in Cuvier and Valenciennes, 1833)Common name: Yellow JackSpecies codes for travel tickets Travel ticket report: 399 – Jack, yellowMarine Life Code: 882 – Jack, other *Licence and indications required for commercial harvesting:SPL – Saltwater Products Licence * These are unofficial names, see Chapter 68B of the Florida Administrative Code for details, www.flrules.org/. All AJs are good candidates for publication; Only in the deepest waters and on the fastest ascents do they “explode” like groupers and snappers. Usually, you can pick up a jack and throw it away. If not, you can evacuate them. Large AJs – over about 20 pounds – often have worms in the tail area, but “shoulder” meat is generally good. “I felt like if we had the right size and pocket restrictions, we could have a sustainable fishery and not worry,” he said. “Before the `90s, I could carry you all day on fish over 50 pounds. Now we catch a 50 pounds once a year. There is still an abundance of smaller fish, many fish that are half an inch below the legal size, which is 28 inches. “Large amberjacks have never been what we would call sophisticated feeders. Where they are thick, the only real “skill” required of the fisherman is to avoid them – something many grouper and snapper fishermen would prefer to do.
For decades, landing a large AJ, worth 50 pounds or more, was considered a brutal rite of passage on deep-sea boats. This or a form of torture for unsuspecting tourists. Finding AJ was rarely a problem, especially in the spring, from March to May, when breeding fish clumped a depth finder on some wrecks and reefs. “Neither Florida nor the federal government impose restrictions on amber mackerel harvesting, although regulations are currently being mapped for federal waters.” “Over the last 10 years, we`ve seen a dramatic decline and a decline in size,” Ryals said recently. “The best judge I have is the captain of our King Neptune party boat, Scott Reynolds. He kept an eye on the catches and said the average valet height here is now 14 pounds. I do not think there is any doubt that we are in trouble. In very deep waters, there are still pockets of large amberjacks. Field editor Buck Hall, who fishes in Pensacola, noted that large catches are still relatively common — in 300 feet of water, about 70 miles from shore.
This spring, the National Marine Fisheries Service announced that Gulf amberjacks (recs and commercial) were 53 percent higher than the 2003 total allowable catch of more than £1.5 million. According to the Gulf reconstruction plan, total landings for 2003 should not have exceeded £2.9 million. The Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Board attempts to tie fishers to these numbers through catch and size restrictions, as well as a “quota” for commercial fishers (i.e. than if commercial fishermen reach a certain number, they are no longer allowed to catch). Vessels must hold a valid HMS angling licence or charter vessel or lead boat licence to catch bigeye tuna, whitefin tuna, yellowfin tuna or bonito tuna. The licence is valid for all those fishing on this vessel. Instead, tournament vessels can catch these species with a general permit for tuna in the Atlantic. “It`s slowly improving in my area,” said Captain Ralph Allen, owner of Kingfisher Charters in Punta Gorda, on Florida`s lower Gulf Coast. “Twenty years ago, if you didn`t have a 70-pound amberjack, you didn`t have anything special. I haven`t seen anything like this in a long time.
With the AJ-Regs, we see more small fish and some 15-20 pound guardian fish. A similar species is the Almaco jacket (S. rivoliana), which is characterized by a more compressed body and a longer crescent-shaped dorsal fin and fin. Both have the characteristic dark eye band. No specific regulations for almacos. Minimum sizes vary by species. Additional requirements may apply. For more information, see the HMS Recreational Compliance Guide.
The hump was (and still is) AJ-central. But many wrecks and deep-sea reefs around Florida contained similar schools of monsterjacks. The fight was AJ from the beginning – big boys don`t swell like groupers – but something seemed to be closing. It just wasn`t the same thing. Captain Bob Zales, who operates charter flights from Panama City Beach, has been active in protecting the Gulf amberjack since 1989. A few years ago, he helped NMFS develop an for-hire survey to better capture chartered vessel landings. Random telephone surveys – the former Marine Recreational Fisheries Statistical Survey (MRFSS) – would likely not get a complete picture, as charter clients come primarily from out-of-state. In 1985, the late Don Mann, who recorded the offshore scene in South Florida for FS, wrote: “Every month of the year, private and charter vessels can find action when surface trolling slows down because the depths of [Islamorada] Hump are home to resident schools of giant amberjacks. These husky fighters are not seasonal. There is no season when they “run”. This hot spot has produced countless amberjacks over 75 pounds and some over 100.
Soon, too soon, Sharon`s amberjack appeared – all 25 inches tall. She had barely sweated. The amberjack (Seriola dumerili) is the largest amberjack in Florida. The distribution is widespread – just about any structure in salt water more than 40 feet deep is likely to contain AJ at some point. The leisure baggage limit is 1 per person. The minimum height is 28 inches, measured from the tip of the nose to the tail fork. Commercial fishers with appropriate licences must adhere to a minimum height of 36 inches, a movement limit of 1,000 pounds and seasonal closures: April in Atlantic waters; March to May on the waters of the Gulf. The commercial season is closed for the year in which the annual quota is reached.
The yellow jacket (Caranx beardholomaei) is a fish that resembles amberjacks in profile. It shares habitat and habits, at least on Florida`s southern peninsula, hanging around wrecks and structures, as navigational markers. It can be one of the best fish there is. It grows to about 20 pounds. Some call this a barjack – although it`s technically a different type. No settlement. What happened during this period was a rapid and unregulated escalation of commercial amberjack fishing: from less than £100,000 a year on the Gulf and Atlantic coasts to a million pounds or more in the early 1990s. The explosion partially filled up where redfish reserves were omitted from the infamous “blackened redfish” madness. Red wines were largely withdrawn from the market in 1989, but AJ white fillets were obviously a good substitute. Spending on recreation increased somewhat in the 80s, apparently after the collapse of Gulf martin stocks (which, like redfish, had almost disappeared from the history books). Above the Islamorada Hump and other AJ collection areas, commercial “jack boats” covered their quarries with vertical platforms of “bandits” powered by electric motors. On shallower reefs, divers began using Spearguns equipped with explosive charges.
Small amberjacks (S. fasciata) are much more “less” – rarely larger than about a foot. Otherwise, they look like larger AJs. The leisure baggage allowance is 5 in an aggregate containing the banded rangfish (S. zonata), another small sea trevally. The size limit for both types is at least 14 inches and no more than 22 inches. The Islamorada hump has yet to recover, but a more remote seamount in the Straits of Florida — too far away for commercial boats — has, according to Captain Sánd.