The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) wrapped up its two-day meeting Thursday, Feb. 24 in Apalachicola, where Commissioners enhanced fishing and hunting opportunities for the immediate and/or long-term future of these traditional, conservation-oriented activities and discussed important wildlife issues.
The bulk of the agenda Thursday at the Franklin County Courthouse focused on hunting issues – a departure from the norm of scheduling marine issues on the second day.
Marine issues dominated the agenda on Wednesday, when Commissioners proposed a draft rule that would establish three regional management areas for red drum (also known as redfish), raise the daily recreational bag limit for red drum from one fish to two in northeast and northwest Florida and create a statewide eight-fish vessel limit for red drum. Commissioners will also develop ways to modify the red drum off-the-water possession limit.
In addition, the Commission proposed a draft rule that would make bonefish a catch-and-release only fishery, allow the temporary possession of bonefish for photographs and to document a possible record catch, and create a tournament exemption permit to allow temporary possession and transport of bonefish for tournament weigh-ins.
Final public hearings on the FWC’s red drum and bonefish rule proposals will be in April.
In other marine fisheries action, Commissioners agreed to consider in April proposed recreational amberjack and gag grouper rules for Gulf of Mexico state waters that would be consistent with rules in Gulf federal waters. The proposed rules for Gulf state waters would establish a June 1 through July 31 recreational closed harvest season for amberjack, recreational closed harvest seasons of June 1 through Sept. 15 and Nov. 16 through Dec. 31 for gag grouper, and an open recreational harvest season of Sept. 16 through Nov. 15 for gag grouper.
The Commission also received the latest biological information and public testimony regarding the management of goliath grouper and directed staff to continue to closely monitor the recovery of Florida’s goliath grouper population and explore future management strategies as soon as possible. They also approved rules that will allow the transfer of stone crab, spiny lobster, marine life and ballyhoo commercial license endorsements from May 1 through the end of February each year and considered various federal fisheries-management issues.
Regarding waterway issues, Commissioners agreed with staff recommendations to accept three sites for a statewide anchoring and mooring pilot program. They are portions of Monroe County and the cities of Sarasota and St. Petersburg. Two more, from the east coast, will be recommended in April. Under Florida Statutes, the Commission has until July 1 to select the remaining two sites.
Numerous representatives from Stuart said they want to be included in the pilot program to protect their harbor. Commissioners directed staff to work with the city to see if Stuart can be added as a third pilot program site on the east coast.
A mooring field is a controlled area where boaters tie their vessels to a floating buoy, which is secured to the bottom of the waterway. Florida Statutes require the FWC, in consultation with the Department of Environmental Protection, to establish a pilot program regulating anchoring and mooring outside of marked public mooring fields to protect public property and safety and the marine environment against improperly stored, abandoned or derelict vessels.
Commissioners on Thursday advanced an alligator harvest rule amendment to give hunters more hours – four hours of daylight – each day during the annual 11-week season, from Aug. 15 to Nov. 1. Only nighttime hunting is legal now. Commissioners directed staff to advertise the rule amendment. They will vote on the final amendment at their June meeting.
The Commission adopted final rules that affect hunting on many of the state’s wildlife management areas (WMAs). Most of these new rules apply to specific WMAs; however, two affect public hunting on a statewide scale.
One such statewide rule establishes youth turkey hunts on 78 FWC-managed areas, all of which support adequate turkey populations, and creates a youth turkey quota permit. Forty-nine of the 78 areas will require a youth turkey quota permit, and only those youths who will be younger than 16 years old on the last day of the youth turkey hunt can apply for this opportunity. These are two-day, weekend hunts the weekend prior to the opening of spring turkey season on each particular WMA, beginning with the 2012 season.
The other statewide rule removes the one-gun restriction on all hog quota hunts using dogs. Currently, these “hog-dog” quota hunts allow only one hunter (permit-holder), one gun, one assistant and up to three dogs. An additional person also may join the hunting party, if a guest permit is obtained in that person’s name. But starting with the 2011-12 hunting season, each participant will be allowed to hunt with a gun.
Also on Thursday, the FWC finalized changes in hunting dates for the 2011-12 season on lands it manages. The rules for these public lands become effective on July 1.
These adjustments align the seasons on wildlife management areas and wildlife and environmental areas more closely with the newly adopted zonal season dates that took effect on private lands last year and with the breeding season and hunter preferences.
Also Thursday, staff reported to Commissioners on implementation of the Florida Youth Conservation Centers Network. Since December, FWC leadership and staff have been busy establishing more sites and developing plans and budgets, said FYCCN steering committee chairman Tom Champeau. He is director of the FWC’s Division of Freshwater Fisheries Management.
“The FWC wants the youth conservation centers network to be a national leader of youth recruitment into conservation,” Champeau said. “That’s what these sites around the state will accomplish, by introducing youths to our natural resources and educating them about conservation.”
Both meeting days begin with recognitions of people whose outstanding work has furthered the protection of wildlife. On Wednesday, Commissioners honored Apalachicola photographer and author John Spohrer Jr. Today, they paid tribute to two of their own: Tim Breault, director of the FWC’s Division of Habitat and Species Conservation and recipient of the Louise Ireland Humphrey Achievement Award for conservation; and Lt. Anthony “Tony” Wright, recipient of the Lifesaving with Valor Award for rescuing a woman from a burning car north of Jacksonville.