The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission meets Tuesday afternoon through Thursday in Fort Myers with lionfish, hunting in the Big Cypress “addition lands,” alligators, and Gulf reef fish highlighting the agenda.
Commissioners are expected to adopt a final rule making it easier for spearfishers to harvest invasive lionfish in state waters. The proposed rule would allow divers to use rebreathers to hunt the venomous invaders. The FWC could issue permits to tournaments and other organizations allowing spearfishing for lionfish in areas where the practice is otherwise prohibited. A provision banning the importation or aquaculture of lionfish is expected to be tabled until the fall.
The panel will be asked to approve a new hunting management plan for the 146,000 acres of “addition lands” in the Big Cypress National Preserve. Initially, the plan calls for walk-in hunting only for deer and turkey by quota permit. Other hunting seasons would fall in line with those for the current wildlife management area. Hunting from an off-road vehicle in the addition would be prohibited because there’s no management plan in place yet for ORVs. The plan, developed by the FWC and National Park Service in consultation with U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and park users, will be up for final adoption in September, with some hunting seasons expected to open this fall.
Commissioners will consider whether to expand hunting for alligators to 24 hours during the annual statewide harvest season that opens Aug. 15. They’ll also receive an update on development of a high-water action plan for state lands in the Everglades under the massive state-federal restoration project. And they’ll consider a new Gulf reef fish data reporting system to get a better handle on how many anglers are targeting red snapper and other reef species beginning in 2015. The meeting will be held at the Crowne Plaza.
• You don’t see them much unless you visit the vast Big Cypress National Preserve or Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, but we do have black bears in South Florida. The FWC wants to get the public involved in working with the agency on local bear issues. As part of a statewide black bear management plan adopted in 2012, the FWC called for the establishment of seven bear management units, including one here in the south. This local BMU would oversee the bear subpopulation in the Big Cypress and surrounding areas. Anyone interested in getting involved is asked to attend a public meeting at 6:30 p.m. June 25 at the Sunrise Civic Center Ballroom, 10610 W. Oakland Park Blvd. For more information, go to myFWC.com/Bear.
• The FWC is asking for the public’s help — especially bird watchers — to locate three rare species during their breeding seasons. The agency wants to know about any sightings of the burrowing owl, the southeastern American kestrel or painted bunting, which it says are often overlooked by traditional bird monitoring programs.
If you spot one of these species, you are asked to use the FWC’s new Rare Bird Registry to map your sightings and upload photos. To get involved, visit myFWC.com/Get-Involved and select “citizen science” then “sightings” for the Rare Bird Registry link.
• NOAA Fisheries has announced opening dates for the recreational and commercial red snapper seasons in South Atlantic federal waters from Central Florida north through the Carolinas. Recreational anglers will be able catch red snapper on three consecutive weekends beginning July 11 with a daily bag limit of one fish per person and no size limit. The commercial fishing season will open July 14 with a daily trip limit of 75 lbs. gutted weight. The commercial season will close when the agency projects the annual catch limit of 50,994 lbs. will be met.
• NOAA Fisheries has announced it has no plans to list the great hammerhead shark as endangered or threatened anytime soon. The agency performed a status review of the species and determined it is in no peril of extinction and does not warrant listing. Two groups, the National Resources Defense Council and WildEarth Guardians, had petitioned for further protection for the hammerhead.