FWC Acts on Big Cypress hunting, Lionfish, and Goliath Grouper

A group of divers observe a large Goliath grouper off Jupiter.
A group of divers observe a large Goliath grouper off Jupiter. Courtesy photo

For the first time in decades, an off-limits, game-rich area of the Big Cypress National Preserve will be open to hunting beginning Thursday.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, meeting last week in Kissimmee, gave final approval to a hunting-management plan for the “addition lands’’ of the 580,000-acre preserve.

The application period for 30 quota permits for archery season, which runs from Thursday through Sept.28, opened Saturday and ends at noon Tuesday. Another 30 quota permits will be issued for muzzle-loading gun season Oct.11-26, with the application period Sept.20-23. Applications for 30 quota permits for general gun season Nov.15-Jan.4 will be open Sept.27. Spring turkey season runs from March7 to April12.

Initially, hunting will be walk-in only because no management plan has been implemented for off-road vehicle trails. Hunting opportunities are expected to expand in the future through an adaptive management process involving federal and state managers and hunters.

In other action at last week’s meeting, commissioners adopted a measure, effective Dec.1, to prohibit aquaculture of lionfish in Florida.

Lionfish are an invasive, venomous species from the Indo-Pacific blamed for decimating tropical fish populations in some areas of the Atlantic, Gulf and Caribbean. Earlier this summer, the FWC voted to prohibit importation of lionfish in Florida, and the agency previously enacted rules making it easier for anglers and divers to harvest the candy-striped predators.

Commissioners proceeded with plans to conduct a new stock assessment of Goliath grouper, which have been closed to harvest since 1990. Depending on the results of the study, to be completed in the spring of 2015, state and federal fisheries managers may consider a limited harvest of the giant reef- and wreck-dwellers.