FWC News Release

Contacts: Inland issues - Henry Cabbage (850) 488-8843
Marine issues - Lee Schlesinger (850) 487-0554

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) approved a set of rules Wednesday to clarify and firm up permit regulations for activities involving sea turtles. Such activities include nesting surveys, nest relocation, educational turtle walks, captive facilities, research and rehabilitation.

Also during Wednesday’s session, Commissioners adopted new rules concerning importation, possession and sale of nonnative fish, wildlife and plants. New rules also address possession, exhibition and caging for venomous reptiles. In addition, Commissioners adopted a resolution to endorse a voluntary set of standards for caging and husbandry of captive reptiles.

In addition, Commissioners approved staff recommendations to start the imperiled species reclassification process for the peregrine falcon and another bird called the smooth-billed ani.

On Thursday, the FWC adopted rule changes for various reef fish species that take effect July 1. These rule changes are intended to make reef fish regulations in state waters consistent with recently approved regulations in federal waters.

In Atlantic Ocean waters, the new rules allow recreational fishers to keep one golden tilefish and one snowy grouper within the five-fish daily aggregate grouper bag limit. The daily recreational bag limit for Atlantic red porgy will jump from one fish to three fish per person, and the recreational minimum size limit for Atlantic vermilion snapper will rise from 11 to 12 inches total length. The rules also set commercial trip limits in the Atlantic that are the same as trip limits in federal waters.

New rules for Atlantic black sea bass include increasing the recreational minimum size limit from 10 inches total length to 11 inches total length in 2007, and then to 12 inches total length in 2008, and establishing a June 1 – May 31 harvest season. The rules also require a minimum 2-inch mesh for the back panel of black sea bass traps in the Atlantic, and require removal of black sea bass traps in the Atlantic when the commercial quota is reached.

New reef fish rules in Gulf of Mexico waters decrease the commercial and recreational minimum size limit for vermilion snapper from 11 to 10 inches total length, eliminate the April 22 through May 31 closed season for commercial harvest of vermilion snapper, establish a zero bag limit for gag, red and black grouper for captains and crew on for-hire vessels, and remove the requirement for Class I and Class II commercial red snapper licenses.

Other new reef fish rules approved by the FWC designate golden tilefish as a “restricted species” in Florida, change the minimum size limit of vermillion snapper imported into Florida from 11 to 10 inches total length, and prohibit commercial fishermen from harvesting or possessing the recreational bag limit of reef fish species on commercial trips.

The FWC also passed a rule to extend the area where harvest of commercial sponges by diving in Gulf waters is legal westward to Cape San Blas and require that all sponges harvested by diving be cut rather than removed with a hook. This rule takes effect July 1.

In other marine fisheries action, Commissioners proposed rule amendments for snook that would reduce the daily recreational bag limit from two fish to one on the Atlantic coast and change the current 27-34 inches total length snook slot limit to 28-32 inches in Atlantic waters and 28-33 inches in Gulf, Everglades National Park and Monroe County waters. The proposed rule also adds the first half of December and all of February to the closed harvest season in the Gulf, Everglades and Monroe County, and would allow snook anglers to carry more than one cast net aboard a vessel. A final public hearing on these proposals will be held in June.

Commissioners also heard reports on reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and federal Gulf red snapper management, and received an update on development of a vision document for the future of saltwater fishing in Florida. They also considered several federal fisheries-management issues and expressed opposition to a proposed federal exempted fishing permit that would allow longline fishing for swordfish in an area of east Florida that is now closed.

The complete agenda and background materials are available at www.MyFWC.com/commission/2007/Apr07/

The next FWC meeting will be in Melbourne June 13-14.