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The FWC ended a two-day meeting in Clewiston...

on Dec. 10 by voting to retain Rodney Barreto as chairman. It was one of the few things commissioners did not vote to change during the two-day meeting, which included selecting Dick Corbett to serve as vice chairman for 2010.

During the Dec. 9 session, the FWC adopted final rules allowing use of peregrine falcons for falconry in Florida.

Other draft rule changes for 2010-2011 require a permit to import nonnative wildlife, including the Northern largemouth bass. Another draft rule prohibits importation of quagga mussels.

Commissioners heard a staff report on Sarasota County’s request for changes to manatee zones there and directed staff to re-evaluate proposed changes and bring back a recommended final rule for consideration at a meeting in 2010.

The FWC decided to hold off on making changes in permit exemptions for commercial fishers and professional fishing guides for higher speed operation in some manatee zones statewide until economic conditions improve.

Commissioners wrapped up the first day by approving acquisition of a part of the Flint Rock Tract as an addition to the Aucilla Wildlife Management Area under the Florida Forever program.

During the second day of the meeting, Commissioners ordered an executive order to be written for an amnesty program for all reptiles of concern, including pythons.

Turning from inland to marine issues, the FWC held a final public hearing on proposed federal consistency rules to address overfishing of grouper in the Atlantic Ocean off Florida.

Commissioners voted to decrease the aggregate daily recreational bag limit for all grouper in Atlantic and Monroe County state waters from five fish to three fish per person, prohibit the captain and crew of for-hire vessels from retaining any species in the aggregate grouper bag limit and decrease the aggregate recreational bag limit for gag and black grouper from two fish combined to one fish – either species but not both – in Atlantic and Monroe County state waters.

The federal consistency rules also prohibit all recreational and commercial harvest of shallow-water groupers (including gag, black grouper, red grouper, scamp, red hind, rock hind, coney, graysby, yellowfin grouper, yellowmouth grouper and tiger grouper) from Jan. 1 through April 30 in Atlantic waters.

In addition, Commissioners approved a proposed federal consistency rule requiring dehooking tools to be aboard commercial and recreational vessels and used as needed when fishing for reef fish in Atlantic state waters. The new Atlantic grouper and dehooking tools rules take effect in mid-January.

Another final public hearing was held on proposed rules to help shrimpers protect marine animals and sea turtles. The FWC approved rule changes to allow the use of bycatch reduction devices for shrimp trawls in all Florida waters that have been cleared for use in adjacent federal waters and also will automatically allow future federally-approved bycatch reduction devices to be used in state waters. The new shrimp rules take effect in mid-January.

In other marine fisheries action, the FWC received a report on permit management issues and directed staff to develop a rule for consideration in April to extend Florida’s permit regulations to adjacent federal waters (where there is no federal rules on the species).

This includes the permit recreational bag limit; recreational gear restrictions (allowing for recreational spearing of permit greater than 20 inches fork length in federal waters only); commercial size limit and gear restrictions and a commercial trip limit of 250 permit per day.

The FWC also extended the expiration date of the moratorium on new spiny lobster commercial dive permits from July 1, 2010 until July 1, 2015, reviewed and discussed various federal fishery management issues and received reports on goliath grouper and the Marine Recreational Information Program.

Commissioners also examined draft rules updating boating-restricted areas of the Florida Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway in Palm Beach County.

The FWC will hold the first of five regular sessions in 2010 in Apalachicola on Feb. 17-18.