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FWC wraps up 2-day meeting in Havana

For immediate release: April 7, 2011
Media contacts: (marine fisheries issues) Lee Schlesinger, 850-487-0554;
(other issues) Susan Smith, 850-488-8843

FWC wraps up 2-day meeting in Havana

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) wrapped up its two-day meeting Thursday in Havana, learning that Rodney Barreto is stepping down from his chairmanship of the seven-member board.

“Our fish and wildlife agency is so dedicated,” Barreto said after other commissioners praised his leadership over the years. He repaid the compliments by praising employees’ diligence and commitment, epitomized by a video of FWC biologist Adam Warwick swimming in the Gulf with a bear under his arm so the animal wouldn’t drown.
Barreto anticipates continuing to work with the FWC.

Commissioners also learned from staff that its five-year-old Gopher Tortoise Management Plan is doing well in protecting the threatened species, saving thousands since its inception, and will continue to improve balancing conservation with the needs of Floridians.

On Wednesday, April 6, the Commission approved a rule that will provide more protection for bonefish by:
a) eliminating the one-fish daily recreational bag limit for bonefish and instead make bonefish a catch-and-release fishery only;
b) specifying that bonefish may be targeted with hook and line gear only;
c) allowing the temporary possession of bonefish for photographs and to document a possible record catch;
d) creating a tournament exemption permit to allow temporary possession and transport of bonefish for tournament weigh-ins; and
e) strengthening provisions prohibiting the sale of bonefish.

These rules take effect July 1.

The Commission deferred final action until November on a proposed rule that would establish three regional management areas for red drum, raise the daily recreational bag limit for red drum from one fish to two in Northeast and Northwest Florida, create a statewide eight-fish vessel limit for red drum, and modify the red drum off-the-water possession limit and red drum transport provisions. Commissioners want to review the results of an FWC red drum stock assessment, which will be finalized this summer.

In other marine fisheries action, Commissioners approved conditional recreational amberjack and gag grouper harvest season rules for Gulf of Mexico state waters that would be consistent with pending rules in Gulf federal waters.  The rules would establish an annual June 1 through July 31 closed recreational harvest season for amberjack in Gulf state waters.

The rules would also create a 2011 closed gag grouper recreational harvest season in Gulf state waters, except Monroe County waters, from June 1 through the end of this year;  however, there would be an open gag grouper recreational harvest season in these waters from Sept. 16 through Nov. 15 this year only.  These harvest season rules are contingent upon federal approval of Gulf amberjack and gag grouper harvest season rules.

Commissioners also proposed draft rules to further protect permit, Florida pompano and African pompano by expanding their protection to offshore federal waters beyond Florida state waters, where the fish currently aren’t protected, and by creating separate conservation-management strategies for these species.

Some of the key proposals for permit include creating a Special Permit Zone in South Florida waters and a three-month closed season, and adjusting size and bag limits. The proposals would also modify certain Florida and African pompano rules.  A final public hearing on these proposed draft rules will take place in June.

In addition, the Commission proposed a draft rule that would extend the FWC’s stone crab management rules to offshore federal waters beyond Florida state waters.  A final public hearing on this rule proposal will be in June.  Commissioners also directed staff to develop possible modifications to spotted seatrout rules, including recreational and commercial bag and size limits and harvest seasons, and they received updates on various federal fisheries management issues.

FWC staff and Commissioners discussed the anchoring and mooring pilot program on Wednesday. They decided to move forward with the previously proposed St. Augustine and Martin County pilot program sites, contingent upon the issuance of permits.

Also on Wednesday, the Commission recognized FWC Officer Marc Shea of Naples for taking extra steps beyond his law-enforcement duties to educate the public about wildlife laws. That kind of commitment earned him the Shikar-Safari Officer of the Year Award at the meeting. FWC Boating Access Coordinator Pat Harrell of Tallahassee received a Marine Advocate of the Year award Wednesday from the Marine Industries Association of Palm Beach County Inc. This was for protecting and supporting sound growth of the marine industry in Palm Beach County.

The FWC also recognized Jacksonville artist C. Ford Riley for his contributions to the conservation of wildlife and their habitats through his paintings.

The next Commission meeting is June 8-9 in St. Augustine.

To see the full agenda, go to MyFWC.com/Commission.