FWC Meets February 4-6 at Amelia Island

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The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) will meet at Amelia Island Plantation Resort, near Fernandina Beach, Feb. 4-6.

Hunting regulation proposals will dominate the Wednesday (Feb. 4) agenda. The first item to come up under “items requiring action” is disestablishing, as wild hog areas, the Raiford, Flying Eagle, Escambia River, Econfina Creek, Choctawhatchee River and Yellow River wildlife management areas (WMAs) and the Apalachicola River Wildlife and Environmental Area (WEA). The effect of the proposed rule is to allow hunters to take wild hogs on these areas without bag or size restrictions.

Other rules to be considered during the Wednesday session would define an antler point as any antler projection that is at least one inch in length and prohibit intentional placement of food or garbage in any way that would attract black bears, foxes, raccoons and sandhill cranes and create a public nuisance.

Also, a proposed rule would prohibit possession and release of live mallards and establish caging requirements for the species. In addition, the proposal would allow possession of live mallards only by permitted individuals.

Regarding migratory bird hunting, a proposed rule would change the start of the second phase of crow hunting season from May to August to avoid peak nesting season for the species.

In addition, Commissioners will consider numerous rule proposals to allow possession of pet dogs under restraint on most WMAs, prohibit unauthorized release of non-native animals or plants on WMAs and regulate public access to closed areas on WMAs. Other rule proposals would create identical provisions for WEAs.

Other rule proposals to be considered Wednesday would establish hunter quotas, hunting season dates and other regulations for WMAs and WEAs throughout the state.

Commissioners also will consider rule revisions regulating statewide alligator trapping, permitting and sale and establishing general guidelines for the FWC’s grants program during Wednesday’s session.

Fish management area (FMA) rule proposals on Wednesday’s agenda would prohibit possession of firearms on Suwannee Lake, Koon Lake, Watertown Lake and Lake Rachel FMAs. In addition, rule proposals would prohibit possession of firearms on Lang Lake FMA, except as authorized by the landowner, delete Lake Crago as a named FMA and make it part of Tenoroc FMA, and establish an idle-speed, no-wake rule on Lake Crago. Other proposed rules would reduce the panfish aggregate bag limit from 50 to 20 for Tenoroc FMA’s East and West Pasture lakes and eliminate the 8-inch minimum length limit on bluegill and redear sunfish on lakes East Pasture, West Pasture, Derby and Cemetery and establish a five-fish bag limit for bluegill and redear sunfish eight inches or greater on those lakes. The proposed rule also would change Hydrilla Lake from a special opportunity fishing lake to a lake open to public fishing under the general rules for Tenoroc FMA.

Another rule proposal on Wednesday’s agenda would close Smith Lake in Washington County to fishing for two years and would establish bag limits and size requirements for black -bass anglers in lakes Crooked, Grasshopper, Lou, Echo, Quarry Fish Pond and Hopkins Prairie. It also would remove catch-and-release requirements and establish bag limits and size requirements for black bass on certain St. Johns Water Management District water bodies.

Before adjournment Wednesday, Commissioners will hear updates on proposed options to quiet airboats, enforcement of federal manatee speed zones and a cooperative law enforcement agreement between the FWC and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and county alligator hunts and actions to adjust alligator harvests in alligator management units. In addition, staff will report to Commissioners regarding the Non-migratory Whooping Crane Reintroduction Program, the Lake Tohopekaliga drawdown and the Florida Bass Conservation Center.

On Thursday, Commissioners will take final action on proposed rules for spiny lobster to fully implement the licensing program for commercial divers in the spiny lobster fishery, establish a moratorium on issuing new commercial dive permits from Jan. 1, 2005 until July 1, 2010, create an appeals process for the commercial dive permit, and specify that the commercial dive permit is for vessel saltwater products licenses only.

Other provisions up for consideration Thursday create a statewide daily harvest and possession limit of 250 lobsters for commercial divers and also for commercial bully net lobster fishermen, establish commercial dive vessel marking requirements, and prohibit harvest of lobsters by commercial divers within 25 yards of artificial habitats. Another proposed rule suspends the lobster trap reduction program for three seasons to allow completion of a comprehensive study of the commercial lobster fishery.

The FWC also will conduct a final public hearing Thursday on a proposed rule to prohibit snagging and snatch-hooking of tarpon and other enforcement and educational programs to reduce conflicts among tarpon fishermen in Boca Grande Pass.

Thursday’s business also includes Commissioners’ plans to conduct other final public hearings concerning proposed rules to permit catch-and-release red drum fishing tournaments to allow participants to catch, hold in a live well, and release fish under certain conditions and to consolidate and reorganize the special-activity license program into a single rule chapter and establish various rule criteria and standards.

In other marine fisheries action Thursday, the FWC will review and discuss fishery management recommendations from the ad hoc Blue Crab Advisory Board, a request to modify the commercial lampara net ballyhoo season, shrimp fishing in northeast Florida, and the commercial pompano endorsement program, which allows fishermen to harvest pompano with gill nets in federal waters off southwest Florida.

Commissioners also will consider various federal marine fisheries management issues and review the FWC Marine Fisheries Assessment Program before concluding business during Thursday’s session.

Friday’s agenda includes staff reports regarding a revenue proposal for the 2004 legislative session, an update on proposed FWC restructuring, legislative matters and a report by the executive director.

Meetings will convene at 8:30 a.m. all three days, and Commissioners encourage public participation in the decision-making process.

Anyone requiring special accommodations to participate in the meeting should advise the agency at least five days in advance by contacting Cindy Hoffman at (850) 488-6411. Hearing- or speech impaired persons can call (850) 488-9542 to arrange assistance.