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The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission wrapped up its two-day meeting last Thursday in Apalachicola.
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.
Final public hearings on the FWC’s red drum and bonefish rule proposals will be in April.
In other marine 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.
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.
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. 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, 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. 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.”
The next Commission meeting is April 6 and 7 at the Florida Public Safety Institute northwest of Tallahassee.
To see the full agenda, go to MyFWC.com/Commission.