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Media statement: FWC Commission trap fisheries update

At the June 20 meeting in Sarasota, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) approved several draft changes to recreational and commercial trap fisheries rules and directed staff to come back to the September meeting for a final public hearing. Approved draft changes include: creating a mandatory, no-cost annual recreational blue crab and stone crab trap registration for trap fishers age 16 and older and requiring trap identification numbers to be placed on recreational traps; increasing the time allowed for commercial lobster fishers to remove spiny lobster traps from the water after the season ends from five days to 10 days; and starting the commercial spiny lobster trap soak period the Saturday following the recreational mini-season (which occurs the last consecutive Wednesday and Thursday of July). To share your input on these potential changes, visit MyFWC.com/SaltwaterComments. The spiny lobster trap soak period will go into effect prior to the 2018 season via executive order. 

Background 

The FWC held eight public workshops across the state in May to gather input on these proposed changes and gathered input online via the MyFWC.com/SaltwaterComments page. The FWC will be continuing to work with commercial trap fishing industry to improve management of these fisheries.

Researcher and officer receive awards from Florida Guides Association

Photos available on the FWC’s Flickr site: https://flic.kr/s/aHsmkVTjmb External Website

The Florida Guides Association honored two Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) staff members today at the Commission meeting in Sarasota.

FWC biologist John Hunt received the Capt. Phil Chapman Award, which is presented by FGA to those who display a passionate commitment to the conservation of Florida’s marine fisheries.

John Hunt

Hunt has been at the forefront of marine fisheries research efforts in the Florida Keys for nearly 30 years. He has been instrumental in numerous conservation and scientific efforts aimed at ensuring these fragile ecosystems endure for generations to come.

“To best conserve the Keys and other unique Florida ecosystems, we need sound science and a collective problem-solving approach that relies upon strong partnerships among government, industry, stakeholders and environmental groups,” said Gil McRae, director of FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute. “John embodies that philosophy and has directly contributed to keeping the Keys a pristine ecological environment and recreational destination.”

Hunt is a world-renowned lobster biologist. His contributions to conservation include research and monitoring work for the multimillion-dollar Caribbean spiny lobster fishery in Florida, additions to the body of science on reef fish ecology and conservation – particularly regarding the effectiveness of marine protected areas – and leadership for the establishment of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, the Tortugas Ecological Reserve and the recently established Dry Tortugas Research Natural Area. 

“Perhaps, most importantly, John is a tireless advocate for his staff within the agency,” McRae said. “He has repeatedly shown admirable dedication and commitment to his staff, serving as a model for all of us with his leadership, compassion and courage.”

“It’s an honor to receive an award from the Florida Guides Association because they are such leaders in conservation,” Hunt said.

Capt. Pat Kelly, Florida Guides Association president, presented FWC officer Michael Bibeau of Hillsborough County with the “Trained Eyes Coastwatchers” Officer of the Year award.

Bibeau

Bibeau patrols his home county of Pinellas where he maintains strong working relationships with local partner agencies in enforcing conservation rules and regulations as well as promoting education and conservation stewardship among those enjoying Florida’s natural resources.

 “We’re honored that Officer Bibeau, who also  is our current FWC Officer of the Year, was chosen for this award,” said FWC Col. Curtis Brown. “He is a fine example of our dedicated law enforcement officers who are out there every day protecting the public and conserving Florida’s natural resources.”

His actions set an example that reaches statewide through his leadership as a field training officer and on FWC’s Special Operations Group and Advanced Conservation Training Academy as well as participating in the Great American Teach-In program.

“This is such an honor for me to receive this award from the Florida Guides Association,” Bibeau said. “The hard work of my brothers and sisters in conservation law enforcement inspires me to do my job every day to the best of my ability.”

FWC names John Little as the Hunter Safety Instructor of the Year

Photos available on the FWC’s Flickr site: https://flic.kr/s/aHsmkVTjmb External Website

John Little

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) named John Little of Palm Bay the 2017 Volunteer Hunter Safety Instructor of the Year at its June Commission meeting in Sarasota. The award recognizes a volunteer who significantly advances the cause of safe hunting through extraordinary service in training and education.

Little has been volunteering to teach the state’s hunter safety course since 2003. He received Area Coordinator of the Year in 2016, in his home county of Brevard. During 2017, Little scheduled 14 classes and certified 116 students.

“John does a great job of cross-training the members of his teaching team and combines traditional and skills day classes, offering students a choice,” said Will Burnett, FWC’s northeast regional hunter safety coordinator. “Students walk away from John’s class with a new respect and appreciation for safe firearms handling and ethical hunting.”

In addition to teaching the FWC’s hunter safety course, Little is a nationally-certified instructor, youth-group counselor, and teaches basic firearms handling and safety at a local gun club.

Because Little received the award, he is now in the running and representing Florida for the national title International Hunter Education Association’s Instructor of the Year.

"It’s volunteers like John Little that unselfishly give of their time, talent and treasure who are making a big impact on building safe, responsible, knowledgeable shooters and hunters,” said Bill Cline, FWC's section leader for hunter safety and public shooting ranges.

 Anyone interested in learning how to become a volunteer hunter safety instructor can go to MyFWC.com/HunterSafety and select “Volunteer.”

Successful completion of a hunter safety course is required for anyone born after May 31, 1975, who wishes to obtain a Florida hunting license to hunt unsupervised. For more information, visit MyFWC.com/HunterSafety.

FWC approves new course requirements for airboat operators carrying passengers for hire

Photos available on the FWC’s Flickr site: https://flic.kr/s/aHsmkVTjmb External Website

At its June 19-20 meeting in Sarasota, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) approved new course requirements for airboat operators carrying passengers for hire. A tragic airboat accident in south Florida was the impetus behind House Bill 1211, known as “Ellie’s Law,” requiring all airboat operators carrying passengers for hire to complete an Airboat Operators Course. 

FWC staff worked with the airboat education industry and stakeholders to gather public input and develop the rule, which details minimum course requirements for instructor qualifications, student requirements, airboat operators course requirements, basic course topics, proof of completion and refresher course requirements. The rule is supported by the airboat education industry, stakeholders and the public as indicated from three public meetings and meetings with the Florida Airboat Association.

“Public safety is important to the FWC, and with the Legislature’s guidance, this new rule provides additional requirements for airboat operator courses which will improve safety measures for passengers aboard an airboat for hire,” said Commission Chairman Bo Rivard.

Implementation of the new rule will go into effect by July 1, 2019. The entire rule can be viewed here https://bit.ly/2MBC9nQ. External Website  

Lake Ponte Vedra cattail treatment scheduled

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) will treat cattails on Lake Ponte Vedra in the Guana River Wildlife Management Area sometime in the next two weeks, weather permitting.

The FWC’s Invasive Plant Management Section will be aerially applying treatment via helicopter to 150 acres of cattails on Lake Ponte Vedra in northern St. Johns County.

The aerial herbicide used for the project has been approved for use in lakes by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. There are no restrictions for fishing, swimming or irrigation in the treated areas.

Managing and treating cattails is necessary for the health of Florida’s waters and to enable continued recreational boating and other aquatic activities. It also will improve fish and wildlife habitat.

For more information about the treatment, contact Wade Brenner with the FWC’s Wildlife and Habitat Management Section at 904-825-6877.

Participation in the Gulf Reef Fish Survey is improving fisheries management

Gag Grouper

Gag grouper

Faster access to data. Improved fisheries estimates. More informed decision making. We want to thank you for making the Gulf Reef Fish Survey a success. Your participation has led the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), for the first time ever, to be able to manage the harvest of recreational red snapper in both state and federal waters in the Gulf. Participants in the survey are helping improve fisheries management in Florida.

Since April 2015, recreational anglers who fish from private boats on the Gulf coast of Florida have been asked to sign up for the Gulf Reef Fish Survey. Signing up is required to legally harvest red and vermilion snappers; gag, black and red groupers; gray triggerfish; and amberjack species.

The purpose of the Gulf Reef Fish Survey is to provide timely and precise data to state and federal agencies that are responsible for managing reef fish and making decisions that impact recreational anglers in Florida. By signing up for the survey, anglers are eligible to receive a questionnaire in the mail about recent fishing activity. Each month, angler responses from the mail survey are used to estimate the numbers of recreational trips taken on the west coast of Florida to fish for Gulf reef fish species.

By working collaboratively with NOAA Fisheries, the Gulf Reef Fish Survey produces data that are complementary with the existing Marine Recreational Information Program. External Website When information collected from the two surveys is used together, estimates of landings are more precise, and this allows fishery managers to have greater confidence in our data. Later this year, the FWC will request NOAA Fisheries certify the Gulf Reef Fish Survey for use in regional stock assessments and fisheries management.

The Gulf Reef Fish Survey is the primary data collection method for private recreational anglers to help improve recreational data collection for use in fisheries stock assessments and fisheries regulations.  For red snapper, anglers can also use a smartphone/tablet app called iAngler Gulf Red Snapper External Website to voluntarily log red snapper fishing trip data. Anglers who report through the app are still asked to participate in the Gulf Reef Fish Survey if they receive a questionnaire in the mail or are interviewed by an FWC biologist at the dock. Participation in the survey, MRIP and the iAngler app is important for fisheries management.

If you receive one of the Gulf Reef Fish surveys in the mail, we ask that you fill out the questionnaire and return it to the marked address. Return the questionnaire even if you did not fish during the month of the survey. If an FWC biologist greets you at a boat ramp or marina, the interview takes just a few minutes of your time. By participating in an interview for the Gulf Reef Fish Survey, you are making an important contribution to help conserve Florida’s recreational fisheries.

Want to know more about the Gulf Reef Fish Survey? Visit MyFWC.com/Research, click on “Saltwater,” then “Commercial and Recreational Fisheries” and “Gulf Reef Fish Survey.” You can also learn more at MyFWC.com/Snappers by clicking on “Gulf Reef Fish Survey.”

FWC reminds scallopers to stay safe, recognize and use divers-down flags and buoys

Photos available on the FWC’s Flickr site: https://flic.kr/s/aHsjzqsVs5 External Website

Diver Down Flag

With the opening of scallop seasons fast approaching, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) wants to remind everyone engaged in this fun outdoor activity to use a divers-down warning device whenever they are snorkeling or scuba diving while searching for these tasty treats.

The divers-down symbol is rectangular or square and red in color with a white diagonal stripe. A divers-down flag displayed on a boat must be at least 20 inches by 24 inches and displayed at the highest point where it can be observed from 360 degrees around the vessel. A buoy may not be used or displayed from a vessel. A divers-down flag or buoy, displayed from the water, must be at least 12 inches by 12 inches. A flag must have a wire or other stiffener to hold it open, and a buoy may be three- or four-sided.

All divers must prominently display a divers-down device in the area in which the diving occurs.

“Displaying and understanding what constitutes a proper divers-down symbol are critical,” said Capt. Tom Shipp of FWC’s Boating and Waterways Section.  “These safety devices are meant to alert boaters to the presence of people under the water’s surface and to give them plenty of room.”

All vessels must make reasonable effort to stay at least 100 feet away from a divers-down device within a river, inlet or channel. In open waters, vessels must make reasonable effort to stay 300 feet away. For safety, divers should stay within those same distances of their displayed device. A vessel that approaches closer must be fully off plane and at idle speed.

“Divers share the responsibility of boating safety with the boat operators,” Shipp said. “Diving without the divers-down symbol properly displayed or using it for reasons other than to inform others of the presence of divers is unlawful.”

The divers-down device should only be displayed when divers are in the water. When divers or snorkelers exit the water, it must be taken down.

More information on divers-down requirements is available online at MyFWC.com/Boating by clicking on “Boating Regulations” and “Divers-Down Devices.”

For more information on the 2018 scallop season dates and bay scallop regulations, visit MyFWC.com/Fishing and click on “Saltwater Fishing,” “Recreational Regulations” and “Bay Scallops.”

Catch a Florida Memory when you go saltwater fishing this summer

Facebook: Facebook.com/CatchaFLMemory External Website

Kid -fish

Photo courtesy of Gavin Hart

Summer fishing season is heating up and you’re invited to Catch a Florida Memory with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) by participating in any of three fun and exciting Saltwater Angler Recognition Programs. See if you can catch all 71 species in the Saltwater Fish Life List. Caught a big fish that warrants bragging rights? Submit it to the Saltwater Reel Big Fish program. And be sure to check out the nine categories of Saltwater Grand Slams that challenge anglers to catch three specific fish in a 24-hour period.

Anglers of all ages and skill levels can earn various prizes External Website such as certificates, shirts, hats, rods and reels, dehooking tools, rubber-coated nets and more. Successful anglers receive recognition in Florida Saltwater Recreational Fishing Regulations booklets and on the Club Members page of CatchaFloridaMemory.com, External Website plus the chance to win monthly raffle prizes courtesy of generous program partners.

Catch a Florida Memory programs are not only fun and rewarding, but they also promote fisheries conservation. Anglers are encouraged to target a diversity of species to help decrease fishing pressure on the most sought-after fishes. Catch-and-release fishing and responsible fish handling practices are emphasized, and anglers do not have to harvest their catches to qualify. Photos of the angler with each catch are required and could even be featured in FWC publications or on social media.

Saltwater Fish Life List

Can you catch them all? Similar to a birding life list, this program allows anglers to track their progress at catching 71 different species of saltwater fish. Anglers who catch at least 10 different Life List species can join the Saltwater Fish Life List 10-Fish Club and receive a prize pack including a certificate of accomplishment and a colorful shirt, plus be eligible for additional prizes as they catch 30, 50 and all 71 fish on the list. Anglers who complete their Life List by submitting all 71 fish will be awarded a grand prize! Get started today and print your Saltwater Fish Life List or request to receive one by mail at CatchaFloridaMemory.com. External Website

Saltwater Reel Big Fish

Don’t let that whopper of a fish turn into just a whopper of a story. Memorialize your Saltwater Reel Big Fish by submitting a photo of you with your catch and a photo of the fish over a measuring device. This program includes 30 different species in both adult and youth (15 and younger) categories. Successful participants receive a prize pack including a certificate of accomplishment and a colorful shirt, and are eligible for additional prizes as they catch five, 10, 15 or all 30 different Saltwater Reel Big Fish species. Plus, anglers who submit all 30 species will get a grand prize!

Saltwater Grand Slams

Can you meet the challenge? FWC has nine different Saltwater Grand Slams that award anglers for catching three specified fish within a 24-hour period, and the categories may surprise and challenge you. From the Inshore Grand Slam consisting of red drum, spotted seatrout and flounder to the Florida Grand Slam of permit, tarpon and bonefish, these challenges will make you work to increase your fishing skills. The program even includes a Small Fry Grand Slam for anglers 15 and under who catch a pinfish, catfish and grunt. Successful anglers receive a prize pack with a certificate of accomplishment and a colorful shirt showing the fish from their Grand Slam, and can win additional prizes when they catch three, six, or all eligible Grand Slams. Plus, a grand prize will be given to anglers who complete all eligible slams!

For more information

Learn more about Catch a Florida Memory programs and submit catches today External Website at CatchaFloridaMemory.com. Keep track of who’s catching what on the Catch a Florida Memory Facebook page, External Website Facebook.com/CatchaFLMemory. Want to learn more about saltwater fishing? View how-to videos at MyFWC.com/SaltwaterFishing. And brush up on your saltwater fish identification skills at MyFWC.com/FishingLines.

Have questions? Are you a business or organization that would like to partner with Catch a Florida Memory? Email AnglerRecognition@MyFWC.com or call 850-487-0554.

FWC to meet June 19-20 in Sarasota

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) will meet June 19-20 at the Hyatt Regency Sarasota, 1000 Boulevard of the Arts, Sarasota, FL 34236. Meetings both days are open to the public.

The FWC is committed to providing opportunities for public input at each Commission meeting. 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 is scheduled to start at 8:30 a.m., 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, June 19. 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 June 19-20 agenda and links to background reports, go to MyFWC.com/Commission and select “Commission Meetings.” Those who cannot attend can follow coverage at Twitter.com/MyFWC External Website (@MyFWC) and join the conversation by using the #FWC2018 hashtag. Check the Florida Channel for possible live video coverage at TheFloridaChannel.org. External Website

Bay scallop season opens June 16 in Dixie County and a portion of Taylor County

Photo: http://bit.ly/2nXU7ph External Website  

Photo gallery: http://bit.ly/2BM92Mz External Website

Scallops

The 2018 recreational bay scallop season for Dixie County and a portion of Taylor County opens June 16 and will remain open through Sept. 10. This includes all state waters from the Suwannee River to the Fenholloway River.

Gov. Rick Scott said, “Each summer, thousands of Floridians and visitors come to our coastal communities for the world’s best scalloping. With the opening of scallop season along with Florida’s abundant fishing opportunities, I am encouraging everyone to experience for themselves why Florida is the Fishing Capital of the World. This is a great time to get outside and enjoy the Gulf Coast’s beautiful waters, pristine beaches and world-class seafood.”

“Harvesting bay scallops is a fun outdoor activity for the whole family,” said Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Chairman Bo Rivard. “The conservation of this species is important for recreation and the economics of these coastal areas.”

Other 2018 Season Dates

Additional bay scallop season dates for 2018 are as follows:

  • St. Joseph Bay and Gulf County: Aug. 17 through Sept. 30. This region includes all state waters from the Mexico Beach Canal in Bay County to the westernmost point of St. Vincent Island in Franklin County.
  • Franklin County through northwestern Taylor County (including Carrabelle, Lanark and St. Marks): July 1 through Sept. 24. This region includes all state waters from the westernmost point of St. Vincent Island in Franklin County to Rock Island near the mouth of the Fenholloway River in Taylor County.
  • Levy, Citrus and Hernando counties (including Cedar Key, Crystal River and Homosassa): July 1 through Sept. 24. This region includes all state waters south of Alligator Pass Daybeacon #4 near the mouth of the Suwannee River in Levy County to the Hernando – Pasco county line.
  • Pasco County: A trial 10-day open season will occur July 20-29. This region includes all state waters south of the Hernando – Pasco county line and north of the Anclote Key Lighthouse in northern Pinellas County, and includes all waters of the Anclote River.

These season dates are for 2018 only. In late 2018 or early 2019, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) will set the 2019 seasons for Gulf and Pasco counties, consider continuing the 2018 season structure for the remaining portions of the open scallop harvest area in 2019, and will work toward creating a more permanent season structure for 2020 and beyond.

As the 2018 season moves forward, share your comments on what you would like to see for a future season structure at MyFWC.com/SaltwaterComments. The FWC is very interested in understanding whether the public prefers regional differences in the season dates or a consistent season across the harvest area, as well as what season dates work best for various regions. Public feedback will be an important factor for determining whether further changes are needed when making a decision about the long-term season dates.

Boater and scalloper safety

Be safe when diving for scallops. Stay within 300 feet of a properly displayed divers-down flag or device when scalloping in open water, and within 100 feet of a properly displayed divers-down flag or device if on a river, inlet or navigation channel. Boat operators traveling within 300 feet of a divers-down flag or device in open water or within 100 feet of one on a river, inlet or navigational channel must slow to idle speed. For more information, visit MyFWC.com/Boating/Regulations and click on “Divers-down Warning Devices.”

Bag limits and other regulations

Bag and vessel limits throughout the entire bay scallop harvest zone are 2 gallons whole bay scallops in shell or 1 pint of bay scallop meat per person, with a maximum of 10 gallons of whole bay scallops in shell or 1/2 gallon bay scallop meat per vessel.

Scallops may be collected by hand or with a landing or dip net.

Scallops must be landed within the area that is open to harvest and may not be possessed on waters outside of areas that are open to harvest or during the closed season.

There is no commercial harvest allowed for bay scallops in Florida.

For information on bay scallop regulations, visit MyFWC.com/Fishing and click on “Saltwater Fishing,” “Recreational Regulations” and “Bay Scallops.”

Citizen Science

Done for the day? Help FWC’s scallop researchers by completing an online survey at svy.mk/bayscallops. Harvesters can indicate where they harvested scallops, how many they collected and how long it took to harvest them. Participants can email BayScallops@MyFWC.com to ask questions or send additional information.

Learn more about long-term abundance trends in the open and closed scalloping areas by visiting MyFWC.com/Research and clicking on “Saltwater,” “Molluscs,” “Bay Scallops” and “Bay Scallop Season and Abundance Survey.”

 Scallop2018map.jpg

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