STAFF REPORT- The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) will meet virtually July 22 and 23 beginning at 9 a.m. each day. The meeting will be held virtually due to COVID-19 (Coronavirus) social distancing guidelines. This meeting is being held by communications media technology, specifically using Adobe Connect with a telephone conference line for accepting public comments during the meeting. The Florida Channel will be broadcasting live video coverage at TheFloridaChannel.org and participants watching via the Florida Channel can utilize the telephone conference line to call in for public comment.
The FWC is committed to providing opportunity for public input. To accommodate as much input as possible from those participating in the meeting, the Chairman reserves the right to designate the amount of time given to a topic or speaker, including time donation to other speakers. Because this meeting is being held by video conference and a telephone conference line, the Commission is limiting public comment to a specific length of time for each agenda item. See agenda for the time limits for each item. Public comment will be taken by telephone conference line on a first call/first serve basis.
The Commission is also offering the opportunity for stakeholders to provide their comments on agenda items in advance. Advanced comments should be submitted no later than Friday, July 10. Those written comments can be submitted via email to Commissioners@MyFWC.com. If you would like to provide your written comments by mail, send them to: FWC Commissioners, 620 South Meridian St., Tallahassee, Florida 32399.
Some of the topics to be discussed in the online meeting include:
• Stone crabs. Commercial stone crab landings show a long-term decline in the average annual harvest of stone crab claws despite an increasing trend in market price. Staff will present proposed final rules for commercial and recreational stone crab harvesters to help increase the stone crab population and add resiliency to the fishery, including: Moving the end of stone crab season from May 15 to April 15; Extending the post-season trap retrieval period from five to 10 days; Requiring a 2 3/16” escape ring in all plastic and wood stone crab traps before the 2023/2024 season; Increasing the minimum claw size limit by 1/8” to 2 7/8”; limiting the possession of whole stone crabs on the water to 2 checker boxes, each up to 3’ x 2’ x 2’ or 12 cubic ft.
• Apalachicola Oysters: Apalachicola Bay historically supported an expansive oyster reef ecosystem that once produced 90 percent of Florida’s commercial oyster harvest. Harvest dropped dramatically in 2013 and oyster abundance declined each year. In partnership with the community and other organizations, FWC was granted funds for large-scale oyster restoration and to develop an adaptive oyster management plan. Staff will provide an update on the status of Apalachicola Bay oysters, ongoing and future restoration efforts, and propose a draft rule to suspend wild oyster harvest in Apalachicola Bay through December 31, 2025, to support restoration and monitoring efforts. Public comment on this agenda item will be limited to no more than 1 hour.
• Flounder: A stock status update completed by FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute found that the flounder fishery on the Atlantic coast of Florida is likely overfished and undergoing overfishing and that there has been a general decline in the fishery statewide in recent years. Staff will present a summary of the public feedback received to date and propose a series of draft rules to update statewide management of the commercial and recreational flounder fishery to help improve the long-term sustainability of flounder, including: Increasing the minimum size limit to 14 inches (recreational and commercial); decreasing the recreational daily bag limit from 10 to five fish per person; establishing a commercial trip and vessel limit of 150 fish when harvesting with allowable gear, except in November; establishing a November recreational closure; establishing a November commercial trip and vessel limit of 50 pounds when harvesting with allowable gear; extending all FWC flounder regulations into federal waters.
• A Marine Fisheries Management Workplan: Staff will review items completed during the 2019-2020 workplan cycle as well as new and ongoing marine fisheries management issues identified by commissioners, staff, and stakeholders that were selected for the proposed 2020-2021 workplan.
• Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council and South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (GMFMC and SAFMC) Reports: Staff will provide a presentation on actions and discussions from the GMFMC’s June 15-18 meeting and the SAFMC’s June 8-11 meeting. Topics will include various reef fish discussions, recent stock assessment updates, and other federal fisheries topics.
• Draft rules for invasive reptiles: During the 2020 legislative session, changes to Section 379.372, Florida Statutes that regulate certain nonnative invasive reptiles in Florida were passed by the legislature and signed by the Governor. The legislative changes will go into effect on July 1, 2020. The changes add restrictions for the possession of green iguanas and all species of tegus and further regulate the possession and allowances for Burmese pythons, North African pythons, reticulated pythons, South African pythons, amethystine pythons, green anacondas, and Nile monitors. Future possession of these species by eligible entities is now limited to research, educational exhibition and for the purposes of control/eradication. Staff will be providing background on the affected species and bringing draft rules to the Commissioners to align current rules with the direction provided by the legislature.
• Imperiled Species Program Permitting Guidelines: Staff will provide an overview and seek approval for Species Conservation Measures and Permitting Guidelines for eight species included in Florida’s Imperiled Species Management Plan: Florida pine snake (revisions), Florida mouse, gopher frog, mangrove rivulus, Suwannee cooter, and the Lower Keys populations of the red rat snake, striped mud turtle and peninsula ribbonsnake.
• Gopher tortoise permitting guidelines: Staff will provide an overview and seek approval for updates to the gopher tortoise permitting guidelines. Updates include clarifications on capture, release and survey methodology and reporting, updates to permit duration and renewal for authorized agents, and revisions to infractions.
• A staff report regarding marine debris: This staff report will provide the Commissioners with a comprehensive review and update on FWC’s marine debris reduction work. Marine debris is a complex, ubiquitous, and growing global threat and we are working to increase intra-agency coordination of FWC marine debris efforts, furthering FWC’s capacity to lead, serve as a resource, and partner in statewide and regional marine debris management.
The next Commission Meeting is scheduled for October 7 – 8, 2020 in Destin, commencing at 8:30 a.m. each day.