To the Editor:
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) will meet Feb. 7 – 8 at the Florida Public Safety Institute, 85 Academy Drive, Havana, FL 32333. The Institute is west of Midway on U.S. 90. Both sessions are open to the public.
As standard practice, the Commission welcomes public input regarding agenda items using the approved speaker registration process and time limits. To accommodate as much input as possible from those attending, the Chairman reserves the right to designate the amount of time given to each speaker, including time donation to other speakers.
The meeting will start at 8:30 a.m. each day, and the public will be provided opportunities to speak on agenda items each day. The Commission will also provide time for public comment on subjects not on the agenda at the end of the first day, Feb. 7. Those who wish to offer comments during this period will be asked to make sure their comments are not related to any agenda item.
For the full Feb. 7 – 8 agenda and links to background reports, go to MyFWC.com/Commission and select “Commission Meetings.”
Highlights of the agenda for Wednesday, Feb. 7 include:
- Final Rule – Rule Changes for Hunting 2018 – 2019
Staff will present final rule amendments to revise select statewide hunting regulations, specific area regulations on Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs), Wildlife and Environmental Areas (WEAs) and Miscellaneous Areas and to conform hunting dates to calendar year date changes. The Commission approved draft rules on December 6, 2017. Details on the proposed changes are provided in the background document.
- Species Conservation Measures and Permitting Guidelines
The Species Conservation Measures and Permitting Guidelines for eight State-designated threatened species will be presented for approval. The Guidelines contain information on species biology and habitat needs, provide guidance on survey methodology and voluntary conservation practices, and outline protections for each species.
- Regulatory Review – Dry Tortugas National Park Research Natural Area
Staff will provide an update on research and management of the Research Natural Area (RNA) within Dry Tortugas National Park. Dry Tortugas National Park, 70 miles west of Key West, contains a pristine shallow-water reef system in close proximity to deep-water multi-species spawning habitats. Water currents from this region are capable of distributing fish larvae throughout much of the Florida peninsula.
Staff will present additional research results demonstrating that fish populations in the region continue to respond well to management measures in place in the region and will recommend that the Commission once again renew its concurrence with the National Park Service’s (NPS) Special Regulations in the RNA and revisit the issue again in 20 years, or sooner should the NPS recommend changes to the Special Regulations.
Items requiring action on Thursday, Feb. 8 include:
- Draft Rule – 2018 Gulf Red Snapper Season
Staff will provide a review and discussion of recent federal Gulf red snapper discussions, an update on the 2018 recreational red snapper harvest season for state waters of the Gulf of Mexico, and proposed data collection improvements for the Gulf state waters for-hire red snapper/reef fish fishery. Commission direction may be requested on the 2018 season and staff will present the following proposed draft rule: 68B-14.009 Reporting Requirement
In accordance with 379.354(7)(e) F.S., the proposed draft rule would improve data collection capabilities for certain reef fish species by identifying the population of state for-hire operations fishing for these species during 2018 and 2019.
Specifically, the proposed draft rule would require charter, headboat and saltwater fishing guide operations that target or harvest certain reef fish in Gulf of Mexico state waters (excluding Monroe County) to report their intention to harvest or attempt to harvest the following species: red snapper, vermilion snapper, gag grouper, red grouper, black grouper, gray triggerfish, greater amberjack, lesser amberjack, banded rudderfish or almaco jack.
This requirement would not apply to vessels fishing under a valid federal Gulf of Mexico Charter/Headboat Permit for Reef Fish.
- Staff Reports: Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (GMFMC) Report (Staff will report on actions from the GMFMC’s January 29 - February 1 meeting in New Orleans, LA.) Topics include descending devices, red snapper and reef fish; South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) Report. Staff will report on actions from the SAFMC’s December 4 – 8 meeting in Atlantic Beach, NC. Topics include red grouper, red snapper and golden tilefish.
- Final Rule – Bay Scallops
Staff will present proposed final rules to create regionally specific open-harvest seasons for bay scallops.
The Commission implemented regionally specific seasons on a trial basis during the 2017 scallop season, and staff have been gathering public feedback on a proposal to continue a similar season structure on a long-term basis.
The Commission approved draft rules at the December 2017 Commission meeting that would create the regionally specific open seasons described below. Since the December meeting, staff have received additional public feedback on the proposal. This agenda will be updated if staff determines any changes to the proposal are appropriate based on this additional feedback.
68B-18.005 Closed Seasons for Harvest of Bay Scallops
The proposed final rule would create regionally specific open-harvest seasons for counties in northern Florida (see complete details at myfwc.com).
- Draft Rule – Sheepshead and Tripletail
As part of the effort to address management of a variety of popular inshore fisheries, staff have reviewed available data on tripletail and sheepshead and gathered public input on their management.
Following a presentation on these species at the July 2017 Commission meeting, staff continued working with participants in these fisheries in an effort to fine tune the proposal.
Tripletail: In 1996, Florida proactively implemented tripletail-specific regulations based on stakeholder concerns about the fishery. Participation in this fishery has increased in and additional scientific research is now available to inform management decisions.
Staff will present the following proposed draft rules:
68B-49.001 Designation as a Restricted Species,68B-49.004 Bag and Vessel Limits; Bycatch Allowance and 68B-49.006 Allowed and Prohibited Gear and Method of Harvest; Bycatch Exception – The proposed rules would extend FWC’s current and proposed rules for tripletail into federal waters and update language related to extending FWC’s regulations into federal waters.
68B-49.003 Size Limit; Landed in Whole Condition Requirement – The proposed rule would increase the minimum size limit from 15 to 18 inches in order to more closely align with the size at maturity and would update language related to extending FWC’s regulations into federal waters.
Sheepshead: Stakeholders have expressed concerns about the status of the sheepshead population. Staff heard that the current daily recreational bag limit of 15 sheepshead per person is unnecessarily high and is resulting in overexploitation of pre-spawning aggregations. Sheepshead were previously managed in Atlantic federal waters off of Florida by the South Atlantic Council.
In 2012, the council removed sheepshead from their management with the expectation that FWC would take over management in federal waters off of Florida. Taking stakeholder concerns into account, as well as the increased pressure on all inshore fisheries, staff will present the following draft rules:
68B-59.001 Designation as Restricted Species,68B-59.003 Size Limit; Landed in Whole Condition Requirement and 68B-59.006 Allowed and Prohibited Gear and Methods of Harvest; Bycatch Exception – The proposed rule would extend FWC’s current and proposed rules for sheepshead into federal waters and update language extending FWC’s regulations into federal waters.
68B-59.004 Bag Limits; Bycatch Allowance – The proposed rule would reduce the daily recreational bag limit for sheepshead from 15 to 5. The proposed rule would also create a vessel limit of 50 sheepshead for recreational harvesters during the peak spawning months of March and April and update language related to extending FWC’s regulations into federal waters.
The next Commission Meeting is scheduled for April 25 – 26, 2018 in Fort Lauderdale, commencing at 8:30 a.m. each day.
Those who cannot attend can follow coverage at Twitter.com/MyFWC (@MyFWC) and join in the conversation by using the #FWC2017 hashtag. Check the Florida Channel for possible live video coverage at TheFloridaChannel.org.