The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) wrapped up its two-day meeting Thursday in Weston, where Commissioners dealt with fishing and hunting opportunities for the public and significant conservation issues on land and in the water.
The Commission voted Wednesday to launch the next phase of the Florida Youth Conservation Centers Network. Once complete, the Network will provide facilities where Florida children can learn the values and skills associated with life-long activities such as hunting, fishing, bird-watching and marksmanship, with an emphasis on safety and ethics. The Commission has received more than 60 responses to its outreach for partners to provide Florida children with these opportunities.
The FWC approved a new rule Wednesday reducing the daily bag limit for trophy largemouth bass at Orange and Lochloosa lakes in Alachua County. The new rule, which will go into effect in mid-February 2011, alters the daily bag there to three fish per day, only one of which may be over 24 inches in total length. FWC staff sought the opinions of anglers and local businesses, and the vast majority supported the change.
In the area of hunting, the FWC directed staff to advertise new rule proposals that would modify hunting season dates on many FWC-managed areas. The new rules could be approved for final adoption at the February meeting and apply to a variety of public hunting lands. Making these adjustments would align these areas more closely with the newly adopted hunting zone season dates, which took effect this year.
Also, the FWC directed its staff to advertise new rule proposals requiring hunters to tag harvested white-tailed deer and report the harvest to the FWC, in an effort to improve deer management. However, the commissioners directed staff to bring back to the February meeting a menu of options regarding exempt hunters, showing how those hunters would report their harvest. Exempt hunters include individuals 65 years and older and under 16 years old. Tagging is common in many states. The new rules could be approved for final adoption at the February meeting and would become effective July 1, 2011.
On another hunting matter, Commissioners directed staff to advertise a package of new rule proposals affecting hunting on many of the state’s wildlife management areas (WMAs), to be voted on at the February meeting. Most of the rule proposals apply to specific WMAs. However, two of the proposed changes would affect hunting managed areas on a statewide scale. A summary of the proposals is available online as part of the Dec. 1-2 meeting agenda at MyFWC.com/Commission.
The first proposed rule would establish youth turkey hunts on 78 FWC-managed areas and create a youth turkey quota permit for 49 of the areas. If approved in February, these new weekend hunts (prior to spring turkey seasons on various WMAs) would take effect beginning with the 2012 season.
The second rule proposal would remove the one-gun restriction on all hog quota hunts using dogs. If the Commission approves the proposed rule at the February meeting, each participant will be allowed to hunt with a gun, beginning with the 2011-12 hunting season.
The FWC learned Wednesday that the general management plan for the Big Cypress National Preserve Addition lands is complete. The FWC, along with several other state agencies, provided comment to the National Park Service to make sure the plan includes a full range of recreational opportunities, public access and resource protection, as per the original intent of the U.S. Congress. The FWC manages hunting opportunities within the preserve. The FWC and the National Park Service will work together to develop a hunt plan for the 146,000-acre addition to the northeast of the preserve.
On Thursday, Commissioners re-elected Rodney Barreto as chairman and Richard Corbett as vice chairman.
Regarding marine fisheries issues, Commissioners directed staff to continue developing management options for permit, Florida pompano and African pompano, including managing these species separately and/or by region and allowing spearing for these species in federal waters if hook-and-line fishing is allowed. The Commission will reconsider these and other permit and pompano issues during the FWC’s meeting in April.
Commissioners also approved a federal consistency rule that will require commercial harvesters to hold a federal Gulf Individual Fishing Quota vessel account to commercially harvest reef fish species (groupers and tilefish) in Gulf of Mexico state waters, remove the 6,000-pound limit for commercial grouper vessel trips in Gulf waters, and clarify which federal permits and licenses are required to harvest Gulf and South Atlantic reef fish.
In other marine fisheries action, the Commission reviewed and discussed various federal fisheries management issues, discussed the concept of designating certain saltwater fish as game fish, approved its annual marine fisheries work plan and modifications to certain blue crab rules, and proposed changes to when commercial fishing license endorsements can be transferred.
The FWC also directed staff on Thursday to move forward with proposed changes to the state manatee protection rule for Broward County. Staff will hold at least one public meeting and collect public comments on the proposed changes and bring back a final rule for approval at either the April or June meeting.
To see the full agenda, go to MyFWC.com/Commission.