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Posted on Mar 11, 2009 in Top Shots
Eatin' Permit

Which statement is false?
Tarpon, bonefish and permit are all great game fish.
Tarpon, bonefish and permit caught by one angler in one day constitute a flats slam.
Tarpon, bonefish and permit are all lousy as food fish.

Hint: a permit is essentially a big ol' Florida pompano. True, they're different species, but size is the main difference since the permit grows several times as large. In fact, when permit are as small as a few pounds, distinguishing them from pompano can be difficult.

And if you know anything about Tasty Fishes 101, you'll know that pompano have long been considered one of the most succulent of fishes for the table. Given that permit are basically just large pompano, you might assume that permit are also delicious. You'd be right.

Mentioning that reality might be blasphemous in some circles, notably flats-stalking fly-rodders. For them, permit are an ultimate adversary that merit a careful release. The thought of plopping permit fillets in a frying pan wouldn't sit too well with most of 'em.

That's understandable. But anglers who fish reefs, wrecks and other offshore structure may see permit in a very different light. I've been out off Key West reefs when we'd see literally hundreds in a day and catch and release 'em till our arms grew rubbery.

Well... catch and release most of 'em. Yes indeed: I have kept, cleaned and eaten permit - and loved every bite! And I'd do it again.

Why? Besides the pleasure of its taste, permit are completely legal to retain in Florida (up to six per day, lumped in with pompano, though I've never kept more than one). And no one has ever offered any evidence that I've ever seen or heard suggesting that permit populations are in any respect in trouble.

So why is the venerable Bonefish and Tarpon Trust (formerly Bonefish and Tarpon Unlimited) formally asking the Florida Fish and Wildlife Committee to make it illegal for anglers to keep any permit (except for a $50 trophy tag allowing one fish)?

I can't quite figure it out even after reading and re-reading its online petition to grant game fish status for permit - which is great, in my opinion. That petition seeks to outlaw all commercial sale of this important recreational fish. I think most anglers would agree the species is too valuable as a sport fish to see tonnage sold in seafood markets.

But at this point, I'm not convinced there's a need to make it illegal for an angler to keep a permit for dinner. Perhaps, in a precautionary vein, BTT might push for reducing the recreational bag limits from six to two or whatever, or even (though, again, no one's offered any scientific justification for concern) instituting a slot limit. I suspect most anglers would have absolutely no problem with that.

But removing the right to keep even one permit to eat? The minute fisheries biologists discover there is any reason for concern, I'd say sign me up. In the meantime, let's focus on game fish status - and not throw the recreational baby out with the commercial bathwater.

Comment on Doug's blog here in the forums