Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
Regulations Committee

Jan. 23, 2008

Commission Hearing Room
Texas Parks & Wildlife Department Headquarters Complex
4200 Smith School Road
Austin, TX 78744

BE IT REMEMBERED, that heretofore on the 23rd day of January, 2008, there came to be heard matters under the regulatory authority of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission in the Commission Hearing Room of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Headquarters Complex, to wit:

APPEARANCES:

THE TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION:

THE TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE DEPARTMENT:

P R O C E E D I N G S

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: All right. First order of business is the approval of the previous Committee meeting minutes which have already been distributed. Do we have a motion for approval?

COMMISSIONER FALCON: So move.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Second.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay, moved by Commissioner Falcon, second by Bivins. All in favor?

(A chorus of ayes.)

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any opposed?

(No response.)

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Hearing none, motion carries. And Committee Item Number 1, Land and Water Plan Update. Mr. Cook.

MR. COOK: Thank you Mr. Chairman. Our Law Enforcement Division will host the Southeastern Association Law Enforcement Chiefs Conference at their spring meeting in May 2008 at Fort Davis.

Another item, Commissioner Karen Hixon has been appointed by the Governor to represent TPWD as a member of the Environmental Flows Advisory Group prescribed by Texas Senate Bill 3. This group will conduct public hearings and study public policy implications granting permits for in-stream flows for environmental needs, to use of the Texas Water Trust, and other water-related environmental issues.

Finally, the fall license buy-back rounds for shrimp, crab and finfish license buyback are nearing completion. To date, for this round we have purchased 62 shrimp licenses, five crab licenses and five finfish licenses. The next round will likely be the last necessary to reach our goal of under 1,000 combined bay and bait licenses. So we believe that one more round of the buy-back we will be below that ‑‑

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Below that number.

MR. COOK: — number, of 1,000 combined licenses, thank you.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay. Thank you, Mr. Cook. Committee Item Number 2, 2008-2009 Statewide Hunting and Fishing Proclamation.

Ken, would you make the presentation, please.

MR. KURZAWSKI: Good afternoon, Commissioners. My name is Ken Kurzawski, I'm with Inland Fisheries Division, and today I'm going to go over our proposed changes to the freshwater fishing regulations that we wish for your concurrence to take to public hearings. These are very similar to the ones we discussed last fall.

First off, our first one we're interested in is on Lady Bird Lake, which is right here within the City of Austin limits. It has good banks access to the Hike and Bike Trail around the lake, lots of places to fish along the bank and it has restricted boat access in that no gasoline powered engines are allowed on the lake.

It has become a known destination for catching carp within the United States and around the world. It hosted major carp fishing tournaments in 2000 and 2006, 2007 and will be and we'll be hosting another team tournament here in March 2008.

During the course of one tournament, the tournament winner set the state record catch for common carp which is a little over 43 pounds, and it ended up winning $250,000. As you know, Lady Bird Lake was formerly known as Town Lake. The current regulation there, there's no daily bag limits or seasons for common carp.

What we're proposing is to put a limit on carp fishing of one carp over 33 inches, which we're designating as a trophy size, we got that information from some research that was done previously, looking at trophy-sized fish all across the spectrum of game and non-game fish, and pegging a trophy size at approximately 75 percent of the world record length, and for carp that works out to be about 33 inches. Typically those fish are around 17 to 18 pounds.

What that will do, that ‑‑ if anglers are out there, they ‑‑ all carp below 33 inches they can harvest, but over 33 inches only one per day would be allowed. We're not proposing to make a total catch and release for carp at all.

Some of the potential benefits we see, first off, just to promote carp as an untapped fishing opportunity, especially for bank anglers in urban areas, as something we're very interested in. We have programs such as our Texas Urban Fishing which you saw a briefing on at the last Commission meetings about trying to get anglers in urban areas interested in fishing, by stocking fish or having opportunities close to home.

And certainly carp, with their ubiquitous nature around the state, that's something that would fill that bill. We'd like to increase publicity for carp fishing in Lady Bird Lake and Texas in general, and by protecting some of those trophy carp from potential harvest we'll help do that, and we don't really see any increases that, minimal at best, and the overall abundance of carp in that system.

Our next ‑‑ continuing on some of the urban areas, we have a community fishing lake designation. Currently we have special cap fish regulation on those water bodies; no length limit and a five-fish bag, and we have angling limited to pole and line only.

The goals of that are to spread the harvest out among as many anglers as possible, especially when we're stocking, for instance catfish in those reservoirs. These are the special community fishing lake designation, covers all impoundments, 75 acres or less totally within the city limits of a public park, and all impoundments totally within the boundaries of a state park.

For instance, Purtis Creek State Park Lake, which is around 349 acres, would be covered because it's wholly within the confines of the state park; for instance, Lake Livingston which just has a state park on the shores, would not be covered.

What we're proposing here is to limit the number of poles an angler can use in community fishing lakes. But with the caveat that we won't include state park lakes in this particular change. What we've been concerned about, especially during stocking events, and on some of those smaller city lakes that have limited bank access, anglers can come in with multiple poles and pretty much dominate those sites, preventing lots of people from getting in there, getting at the ‑‑ you know, getting at the fish and having an equal opportunity.

And so we're always interested in trying to get that more equitable ‑‑ a distribution of fishing enjoyment among as many anglers as possible. We don't, talking to the state parks staff, they have staff at most of the parks with their rangers and stuff that if there's a problem with someone dominating that particular site, they could usually handle that on-site, and they don't feel that regulation is necessary there.

Next, we have a change on Lake Nacogdoches, for largemouth bass. Currently we have a 14 to 21-inch slot length limit, and a five-fish bag. We're proposing to put a 16-inch maximum length limit, meaning all of the fish under 16 inches would be eligible for harvest, five per day, maintaining five per day, and we would allow anglers to temporarily retain in a live well for weighing the bass 24 inches or larger.

Our goal there is to provide additional protection to those bass over 21 inches; anglers can use a hand-held scale to weigh some of those larger fish. We want to increase the numbers of trophy-sized bass by protecting some of those bigger bass, and hopefully produce some more ShareLunker-sized fish, and also allow some increased harvest of those fish less than 16 inches, which would help with some of the inter-specific competition and promote good growth.

Most of our regulations such as the slot harvest is always a component of that, sometimes in slots, especially with the 14 inches, anglers are reluctant to harvest some of those smaller fish, and we've had concerns and problems with anglers. Bass anglers have really taken to the catch and release ethic, and in instances where we do need a little harvest, so ‑‑ we've had to work a little harder to find some ways to get that harvest to improve those populations.

A couple of reservoirs, state park lakes, Purtis Creek State Park and Lake Raven do have catch and release fishing for bass. We're going to modify those regulations that we have there. Currently we allow anglers to keep fish 21 inches or greater, and weigh at lakeside way stations. We've had some problems with those scales being operating all the time, so we proposed to change that to similar to Nacogdoches, 24 inches or longer, and allow those anglers to donate those fish to the ShareLunker program for safe record and to weigh those fish on a hand held scale, and eliminate the references to the lakeside way station.

A minor change we have on Lake Texoma for spotted bass, currently we have an exception to our statewide regulations there. We have a 14-inch minimum length on it. We're proposing to go to a no-minimum length limit, and retain the five-fish bag. This will be the same as our statewide limit. As I said, this is an exception to our statewide there currently.

Through discussions with Oklahoma, we meet with them regularly to discuss management of Lake Texoma, we try and get our regulations on the Board of Reservoirs similar on both sides of ‑‑ for Oklahoma and Texas, and they've ‑‑ they would like to come around and propose a similar change to move that length limit, and we concur with that, so we're going to propose that.

Finally, we have a couple of regulations on red drum, on some of our inland waters. Lake Nasworthy, we have some special harvest regulations there, no bag or length limits. Colorado City, we have a 20-inch minimum length limit, which is the limit we put on all our inland waters where we stock red drum. There are certain criteria that those waters have to meet as far as having total dissolved and power plants operating on the lakes.

These two reservoirs, the operation of the power plants have changed. We're no longer stocking red drum in those waters, so we don't need the special regulations and those will revert to the statewide limits, which are the same that we have, that people are familiar with on the Coast, which is the 20 to 28-inch reverse slot.

You know, said red drum stocking has been discontinued in both those reservoirs, so we don't need the special regulation.

Those are all the proposals we have at this time. If there are any questions ‑‑

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any questions or discussion?

COMMISSIONER MARTIN: I had a question. On the carp tournament, about how many participants did you have?

MR. KURZAWSKI: It varies. The tournament, those team tournaments they have a certain ‑‑ they do it by assigning sites for people to fish. And I believe the one that they have in Austin, I believe they have 60 slots. So they might be 60 two-person teams; some of them are just individual tournaments that would have more participants, so.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any other questions?

(No response.)

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay, thank you.

MR. KURZAWSKI: Thank you.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Dr. McKinney.

DR. McKINNEY: Mr. Chairman, members of the Commission, I'm Dr. Larry McKinney, I'm director of Coastal Fisheries. We're going to tag-team a little bit. I'm going to ask Robin Riechers, who's head of our science and policy, to lead this off, and I'll kick in ‑‑

MR. RIECHERS: With that, I'll go ahead and proceed. Chairman and Commissioners, again we're presenting the Coastal Fisheries 2008-2009 Statewide Hunting and Fishing Proclamation Proposals.

As a reminder to you, we were scoping the items on consistency with federal regulations regarding sharks and red snapper. We also had an issue that we were scoping regarding reduction of menhaden harvest, or taking away the menhaden harvest in the Texas Territorial Sea, which is state waters out to nine nautical miles, and also not necessarily associated with the statewide hunting and fishing process, but we wanted to use that opportunity when we had people in the room to talk about a voluntary creation ‑‑ or creation of a voluntary saltwater guide certification process, that would basically stress ethics and conservation and so forth, that we would work with that guide community to work towards.

Carole has just passed out to you a scoping summary which includes the results of our four scoping meetings, and the letters and the comments that we've received. We had four scoping meetings as I indicated, at Port Arthur, Dickinson, Port Aransas and Port Isabel. We had approximately 360 people in attendance at those ‑‑ meetings. We were handed another additional 75 comments, and then we've received over 60 email comments during that period of time.

In addition to that, we got letters from coastal conservation associations supporting the Consistency for Red Snapper Rule, we also got a letter from the Ocean Conservancy supporting consistency on red snapper. The Recreational Fishing Alliance sent us a letter, said they do not support consistency, but they do support closing the TTS Menhaden Fishery.

And Omega Protein, which is the company that basically is the Menhaden Harvest in the Texas Territorial Sea, wrote us a letter and did not support closing the TTS Menhaden Fishery.

Of those approximate 495 total comments, basically they almost unanimously opposed the consistency issue for sharks and red snapper, minus the letters that we spoke to just a moment ago. Fewer attendees at those scoping hearings actually commented on the closing of the TTS Menhaden Fishery, but of those who did speak, most of them favored closing that industry within the Texas Territorial Sea.

Now I'm going to go at this species by species basically, and then provide you with the staff recommendation. So if you will, Chairman, I may pause right at the end of each one of these and take any questions that we might have at that point in time.

In regards to a consistency with federal regulations, as you may remember we basically put this on scoping because we had had a ‑‑ or National Fishery Services had a hearing in September in Port Aransas discussing this issue, and it told us we would have a final rule in place by today.

The reality of their system is, they don't have a final rule in place, and in an email back to me this week in discussing that with their Highly Migratory group, they don't even have ‑‑ anticipate the publication of that rule until probably in the summer sometime. So we really don't know what our target is, and what their final rule is going to look like at this time. So with that, we would basically like to remove this from consideration at this time and wait until we see what their final rule is like.

When we consider consistency, with ‑‑ I'm sorry. I didn't hold pause there, I saw heads nodding ‑‑

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: That's all right ‑‑

MR. RIECHERS: Okay.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: — thanks.

MR. RIECHERS: With that, we'll move on to red snapper. When we consider consistency with federal regulations for red snapper, again what we're facing or what we were facing in November was, we had a National Marine Fisheries Service Interim Rule Extension that creates the current two-fish bag limit, and it extends into March 28, 2007. A final rule ‑‑ and I'm sorry that actually should be 2008. A final rule is in process right now, has not been published. Those rule comments were due by 12/7/07; we have not seen that final rule published.

But basically we know it's going to be a two-fish bag limit, and with a season somewhere around, they're saying it's going to start in ‑‑ June 1st and it will last somewhere around 122 days, which will take you in towards the end of March.

To kind of give you a little background, a lot of the rebuilding schedules have hinged on what happens in the shrimp fishery and what happens to shrimp trawl bycatching this fishery, and basically this has been bandered about for about 20 years now, in trying to achieve certain reductions in shrimp trawl bycatch, so that you can then rebuild this stock to the level that is needed.

What I'm showing you here is basically a young of the year graph in blue, the blue-barred graphs are basically 100 to 110-millimeter red snapper caught in our resource trawls off of Texas; that's about a three to four-inch fish. And you can see that the red bar is actual shrimp fishing effort off of Texas, and you can see that due to a lot of economic reasons and other factors as ‑‑ that shrimp trawl effort has reduced dramatically since about 2000.

The young of the year ‑‑ this is what we would call a recruitment index ‑‑ has been going steadily upwards. Now '07 is down again; I don't really know how to explain that at this point. But as a whole trend we do see an upward trend in that young of the year recruitment.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: So, help me with ‑‑ what was happening in '05 or '04 or '06? What ‑‑

MR. RIECHERS: In '04, '06 ‑‑

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: — as for recruitment ‑‑

MR. RIECHERS: — really I mean other than the shrimp trawl bycatch being down because of overall effort being down, that's what we believe probably has the most impact there.

In addition, to kind of give you a snapshot of where we stand in regards to landings, the green line there is the landings from our Texas Territorial Sea, and the red line is the landings from off of Texas in the Exclusive Economic Zone, or federal waters. And of course what you see there is basically a flat trend, from about '95, '96 in regards to landings overall in Texas.

You know, in those earlier years we had a higher total allowable catch so you do see a higher catch rate in the EEZ. But then after that it's been fairly stable. In the last few years, I think the thing to note there is the red line that actually goes up quite a bit, and that could be one of two things. That could be fish establishing themselves in the Texas Territorial Sea, and us having some larger catch rates associated with those.

Or that could be some reporting issues associated with people, since we weren't in the ‑‑ having the same rules as the federal zone. That could be people saying they caught those fish in the TTS but they actually caught those in the EEZ.

Now, when I say that, I also want to make note of the last three points there, and you actually see that the trends in the EEZ also mirror trends in the ‑‑ or the trends in the TTS mirrors what was going on in the EEZ. And so that may just be fishing on that cohorts as those young of the year started really moving into the fishery, and you basically saw both the EEZ and the TTS go up in that period of time. So a couple issues that you may consider there.

COMMISSIONER PARKER: That is not on here. Is that correct?

MR. RIECHERS: It should have been. Is it on yours?

VOICE: Yes.

COMMISSIONER FALCON: Yes. It's the next one, John.

COMMISSIONER PARKER: Yes.

(Simultaneous discussion.)

COMMISSIONER PARKER: Yes?

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Tell the Commission a little bit about how we do the creel ‑‑

COMMISSIONER PARKER: Okay.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: — studies. Especially for the benefit of the new Commissioners, if you would.

MR. RIECHERS: And the way we go about our creel studies here in the state of Texas is, basically we do a random sampling at public access boat ramps from 10:00 to later in the afternoon, evening; we interview anyone who comes across those ramps, we measure their fish, we count their fish, we measure up to six, we count them all.

And that basically gives us a good sampling of what goes on coast-wide. Now, we're very fortunate we've had tremendous support and we're actually ‑‑ within the bay systems, we're able to basically, as we did when we separated the Lower Laguna Madre out last year and had a different regulation, we have a large enough sample size that we can actually differentiate bay system by bay system what is going on.

We really don't have that luxury here with our Gulf samples because we don't get enough people going into the Gulf to be able to do that; so it is a lumped Gulf kind of picture here that we're looking at.

When we consider this consistency issue on red snapper, we're basically looking at a tradeoff between the biological benefits we would gain by matching versus some of the economic questions that we would have to consider if we were to match.

The benefits obviously are, if we do match them, we would have reduced overall fishing mortality, which would increase the biomass on red snapper and basically make it less risky as far as us meeting our goals of not being overfished and undergoing overfishing.

MR. COOK: But it's a match to what?

MR. RIECHERS: A match to the federal — I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I didn't make that clear. The interim rule is two fish, and the season will be 122 days; and the Texas rule now is four fish and we're at a 365-day season, we do not have a seasonal close ‑‑

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: But it's not clear that matching would provide an increase of the resource, or do ‑‑ have an impact on the resource. We don't know that, do we?

MR. RIECHERS: Well, Texas Territorial Sea makes up, when we did match in the early 2000 time period, we made up about 5 percent of the overall catch as compared to the rest of the Gulf, in the Texas Territorial Sea. We believe we still are in that range. So you know, it's ‑‑ we are a very small portion of a pretty big pie out there.

But certainly when you consider the risk, this is one genetic stock, that by matching, you know, we're all contributing to the rebuilding and certainly it's the belief of some others that ‑‑ and certainly within the council process, the National Marine Fishery Service, that if we match, it would reduce the risk or uncertainty of us not meeting those goals.

Now, I'm going to go ahead and hit a few of these items as we walk through them because there are some issues with some of those long-term analysis and modeling effects that we'll be talking about.

So again we've kind of talked about the biological issues, and some of the benefits you would receive there. Certainly from a law enforcement perspective if everyone out there on the water is playing by the same set of rules, they all have a two-fish bag limit, it would make it easier for law enforcement to enforce those current sets of regulations. Right now there obviously is some difference there and that makes it a little more difficult for them.

And also as far as just the angler themselves, if there wasn't this issue of Texas waters being different versus federal waters and versus Louisiana waters it would probably reduce angler confusion.

Those would all be benefits to matching. Certainly the cost associated with matching would be, the costs associated with local economies and local businesses, and every time we deal with red snapper we hear that a lot and we certainly hear that as we move and talk with the charter boat businesses, and the party boat businesses here in the state of Texas, and motels, and so forth, and the tourism that it brings to certain areas of the local coast.

Obviously if we matched the seasonal closure, we would be going from a 365-day opportunity situation to 122 days. So we would reduce opportunity days. And then, lastly, this discussion regarding proportional shift of landings to the Eastern Gulf.

In our recreational fisheries, one of the things that has been documented is that we really have fewer species to target here in the Western Gulf as compared to the Eastern Gulf. So that as we've shrunken this season down, and mirrored this season in the summer month period, basically that has favored ‑‑ and we've kind of seen a shift in some of the recreational landings moving from Texas over towards ‑‑ the other states are now taking a larger share of those recreational landings.

And that's because certainly this kind of shift where in the past, in the winter our party boats were larger boats, did have a winter fishery developed and did go out and use those winter time periods, and that basically has shifted us away from that. In the EEZ certainly, and if we adopt it in Texas, it would even more ‑‑ make that shift even more critical.

With that kind of as we were just discussing, some of these uncertainties surrounding the models, I was actually going to mention the other marine recreational fisheries' statistical program which runs from Louisiana to Florida.

Recently underwent a review by the National Science Academy; basically it didn't receive extremely high marks. There's a lot of work to be done on that survey, and the National Marine Fishery Service is in the process of revamping that survey at this time.

Now, that being said, we do suffer from some of the same issues in our survey, and we're looking to correct those. Though we certainly haven't, in our own science review, do not receive the kind of benchmarks that they received, or the marching orders if you will to go and correct as many things as they have, but we do have similar issues facing us.

When we go to modeling, you know, we've just got to say it. This is a model that projects rebuilding projections out to 2032. When we're talking about dynamic ecosystems like this, projecting out that many years is a very difficult thing to do.

Now that being said, that's what the federal system basically requires that National Marine Fishery Service and the Gulf Council do. But, you know, we certainly recognize that uncertainty here in the state and we have to bring that up to you.

Lastly, certainly within the context of legislation, of pending legislation, there is a House resolution out there right now that the Council chairs have all asked for a committee hearing on, which basically would create more flexibility in the rebuilding time frames. Now, I don't know if it's going to receive a hearing or not, but certainly within the context, the Magnuson Reauthorization, that's always been the discussion. How can we create more flexibility.

And recently Dr. Hogarth, as he's taken another job in the last month, that's kind of what some of his last watchwords with National Marine Fishery Service in several sectors, which was to ask for more flexibility in rebuilding these stocks, and more flexibility in those time frames.

So lastly, you know, we've already kind of spoke about it, it's the economic impacts and basically what you're trading off is the economic impacts of taking an action now in the short run, impacts or the impacts right now associated with that action versus that longer run string if we weren't to rebuild the fishery, and what kind of impact that could have. But you know, we certainly talked about where we stand from our stocks, at least young of the year.

So with that, our staff recommendation would be to remove from consideration at this time, but we do want to mention, we want to hold this open pending any new information or federal action that might require us to come back either before the next statewide or during the next statewide to have this discussion again. That would be our recommendation. I'd be happy to try to answer any questions on this section now.

DR. McKINNEY: And before he does, I want to make a comment.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Regardless of the federal position, we don't see a resource or a recruitment issue at this time based on our shorter-term studies. Correct?

MR. RIECHERS: Well, we certainly don't see the same recruitment issue, though their recruitment's going up similar to ours as well. Ours has probably gone up even more dramatically than theirs.

You know, as far as the long-term resource issue, we are in an overfished condition, and we're fishing at a rate that causes us to continue to be in that overfished condition. Texas has been on record as thinking we've done a lot in our part in this debate for many years now. We have the Texas Closure, which basically shuts a period down during the summer in the shrimp fishery. It was really done for the shrimp fishery, to create a larger, more economically viable shrimp. We've advocated for years that it benefited also red snapper and in fact, in the last amendment that addresses this issue in front of the council, that closure will be mirrored going from the Texas Sabine line over into Alabama if the shrimp trawl bycatch reduction measures aren't met.

So they've now adopted some of that same strategy to make sure that that rebuilding target is met. Because a lot of the belief, as I said, was that it was the shrimp trawl bycatch that was keeping us from meeting our goals. So ‑‑

DR. McKINNEY: I want to make a ‑‑

COMMISSIONER HIXON: I'm not to your point; you're talking about recruitments. I'm not sure what you mean by that.

MR. RIECHERS: Recruitment is basically young of the year fish that have recently been spawned but haven't hit the fishery yet.

COMMISSIONER HIXON: Oh, okay.

DR. McKINNEY: I just want to make a comment to follow up on Robin's point. This ‑‑ is a very difficult recommendation for us to make for a number of reasons, not the least of which, it has put us contrary to one of our strongest conservation partners, which is the Coastal Conservation Association, which has been a big supporter in conservation effort in the state of Texas.

And yes, their letter in front of you, I don't want to ‑‑ you know, to kind of tell you what they're saying, but their point is that this plan is much improved over what it has been in the past, and it's worth ‑‑ perhaps it's worth ‑‑ the effort of support. This is a fishery that, you know, we have to manage across the Gulf and we all have to contribute to it.

And we certainly agree with that from a conservation standpoint. They're honed on that ‑‑ correct side of that issue. And I make that point because really this is not ‑‑ I don't want to characterize this as a, it's Feds versus state type of issue. Some have done that, and that's fine, I understand it. But that's not the direction I want us to come from on this thing, is ‑‑

And as Robin said, we've taken the lead on many conservation actions of the future; he mentioned some of them. Last year, you adopted circle hooks for snapper in advance of that type of thing. Our law enforcement group has been extremely aggressive in prosecuting illegal commercial fisheries here in Texas; really taken that charge on, and received some recognition for what we've done. A lot of that type of thing.

But really what it comes down to in this thing ‑‑ and from a conservation standpoint, purely from that standpoint, that's probably where we should go. But ‑‑ our charge, your charge is the management of the whole fishery. And when I sit down with Robin, believe me, my situation is one that I know just enough to be really dangerous on, on the models they're talking about, the type of thing that's very complicated and so it's a very difficult issue and the National Marine Fisheries is in a very difficult spot, we've been there. You have to work with the data and the processes that you have, because they have to make a decision. Just like we have to make decisions, we don't have that luxury of just saying, no, let's put it off. We have to move forward.

But there are so many questions about that ‑‑ about this information and how we're going in this whole process, that for us to make that recommendation to follow the federal regulations at this time and really ‑‑ and I don't want to overstate it, but really to drive a nail in the coffin of an important coastal fishery in our state with that kind of uncertainty, you know, I have a difficult time doing that.

And I know this Commission and we have made those type decisions. Last year, we went to a regional regulation for spotted seatrout, in the Lower Laguna Madre, which has some of those implications. And we'll do that, we'll come back and make those recommendations to you if we have the confidence in the data that says, This is what we ought to do. But as much as I want to do ‑‑ want to work on that side, because we work on those councils; we support that work, we have obligations to do so, we're behind them on trying to work with those states, on this one, we can't go there at this stage because of that serious ‑‑ that impact. Because there's not much recovery here. They haven't given us much flexibility.

As Robin mentioned, you know, there's no reason why they could not come back and say ‑‑ it will come back to Texas and say, Look, we may have a closure ‑‑ we may have an opening in the summer for the Eastern Gulf; you can have an opening in the winter for the Western Gulf. What difference does it make, it does the same, from my perspective.

So there's a lot of that there that I just ‑‑ I can't go there at this time. I'd like ‑‑ I know we need to do something about it, I can't. And that's really the basis of where we are on this issue.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Something we'll keep ‑‑ obviously keep our eye on.

John, do you have anything ‑‑ you spent a lot of time on this. Anything else?

COMMISSIONER PARKER: I agree.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay. Thank you. Okay. Any other questions?

(No response.)

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Carrying on.

MR. RIECHERS: With that, we'll move on to the scoping item of menhaden Texas Territorial Sea harvest restrictions. Just to kind of give you the brief update again, and kind of catch everyone up on the same page, total menhaden harvest in the Gulf of Mexico on average is about 1.2 billion pounds per year. Of that, the harvest off of Texas occurs mostly in the Upper Coast region, from Galveston to Sabine, and averages about 3 percent of Gulf landings.

Our Gulf assessment, stock assessment which was completed in 2004 basically indicates stocks are in good condition; there's no overfishing occurring. With that, we always look at our own resource trawl samples that we always bring to you all in regards to other species and we looked at them here.

And we see increasing trends in menhaden in our bay and our Gulf sampling trawls. With that, we kind of laid out the picture of the management across the Gulf, and in the Gulf the state waters that were closed, was Florida when they did their net ban in 1995, and we had earlier told you that Alabama was completely closed and I certainly want to correct that for the record.

In the stock assessment they basically said it was completely closed, upon us hitting the first scoping meeting there was some question about that; we've corrected that. We didn't get to correct it until after the scoping meetings but I want to do it here with you; basically it's open in Alabama on the western side of the state; after they completely closed it, they went back in and carved off a little portion on the western side where it's now open.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Is Florida completely closed, then? And has it been since 1995?

MR. RIECHERS: Florida is ‑‑ yes, sir.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay, okay ‑‑

MR. RIECHERS: Yes, sir. And on the East Coast, just to kind of briefly tell you what's going on, it's several different states there that we deal with. But ten states have complete closures in state waters and six have some sort of fishery with seasons or ‑‑ and so forth. So there's kind of a hodgepodge going on over there.

With that, when we consider what we do here with this recommendation, you know, obviously the first thing we talk about is, this is a precautionary ecosystem-based approach. In this case, you know, we have to be concerned with the predator-prey relationships, and this is one of the key cornerstones of prey out there for many other species.

So in that context is how we're looking at this discussion item. Also, you know, obviously a cause for concern can be bycatch fisheries, or bycatch in these purse seine type fishery. Now, this is a relatively clean fishery; 1 percent by number is the bycatch figures we got out of the latest study in 1994. Prior to that there were several other studies indicating a little bit higher bycatch, but certainly fishing practices could have changed since those times to reduce that somewhat.

So we're seeing 1 percent by number, 1.2 percent by weight. If you basically take that out and extrapolate it to the poundage or numbers that we would see in Texas, that equates to about 415,000 organisms in Texas that would be caught in a purse seine each year.

In addition to that, just to kind of fill you in on what some of those species were, really about over 70 percent of those species are accounted by five different species. That would be, Atlantic croaker, stripped mullet, gafftopsail catfish, silver seatrout and Spanish mackerel.

That being said, as we know and one of the reasons we've reached some of the agreements in the past is, you know, red drum are part of the bycatch mix here, and in fact if you use those same ‑‑ that same study you'd get about 1,600 released dead red drum. There's a host of other species ‑‑ or a host of other red drum that are released from the nets and released alive; but you would indicate that about 1600 of those would be dead in this case.

In addition to the bycatch numbers, we do have a certain number of spills each year. We've had about nine spills in the last seven years from this menhaden fishery. Typically a spill will occur when they've hardened the net, something's happened, they've either hung the net or something and they have to release those fish.

Basically, the fish have been deprived of oxygen for some period of time and you'll receive some sort of kill with that. The kills that we've reported in this time frame range from about 20,000 in number to over one million in number, average size about a 300,000 number kind of spill with that.

When we kind of go to the other side of the ledger, you know, obviously this is a fishery that has data since the 1940s, actually before that but we're real confident in the data since the 1940s. It's been managed on a sustainable basis for a very long period of time, and we certainly believe that under current management the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission, while we're here looking at these issues, it is still being managed as we indicated; it's not overfished, or undergoing overfishing. So it's being managed in a sustainable manner.

We would also have to consider the Omega Protein economic impacts. They sent you a letter, it's in your packet. They spoke to the number of resources they put here in the state. It's not really about the number of resources they put here in the state; it's about the number of fewer resources they would put in the state if they didn't harvest those products from Texas state waters. And I don't really know what that is, but you know, we would have to consider those impacts as well.

Lastly, you know, Omega Protein has been a good corporate citizen. They have employed voluntary efforts to reduce user conflicts and to reduce these spills that occur. We basically have had a voluntary agreement in place since 1995, moves them a mile offshore; they basically shut down in the fishery, two days before Memorial Day, two days before Independence Day, and before Labor Day so that they don't have user conflict issues.

They've moved themselves off that beachfront and they've basically tried to abide by those rules, and we believe they have abided by those rules. When they have had spills, they basically report those spills, and they're very active in the cleaning of those spills, basically letting us know when they occur, that way we can anticipate where those fish are going to wash up, and then they've been very supportive in getting that cleaned up as well.

So you know, they've worked very hard to be good corporate partners with us and to make sure that they do what they can to reduce those user conflicts.

With that, you know, just to kind of brief you, our current season does run from the third Monday in April to November 1st. As I mentioned, this kind of voluntary mode, basically where they move offshore, part of that was done also for red drum. So basically from August 15th to November 1st they're off that time frame all the time. But that's a key spawning time, so that was part of the reason they moved offshore as well.

But with that, we basically are coming to you with a staff recommendation to set a total allowable catch for the Texas Territorial Sea at the average landings of a five-year average from 2002 to 2006.

If you calculate that out, that's about 2.9 percent of the Gulf catch during that time period, it equals 31,300,000 pounds and for ease and simplicity we would probably recommend we just raise that to 31,500,000 pounds as setting a total allowable catch that they can obtain out of the Texas Territorial Sea.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: What was the total catch last season, or in the last year?

MR. RIECHERS: If you don't mind, let me just go to it here, so that I ‑‑

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Just for a ‑‑

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Do you have a chart that will show ‑‑ other years other than this time?

MR. RIECHERS: I don't have it charted here. I can ‑‑ you know, I can answer that question and we can kind of ‑‑ I have it in a table here.

That question, the last year's landings in pounds was 25 million.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Last year was?

MR. RIECHERS: Yes.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Last year.

DR. McKINNEY: Just read those last five years ‑‑

MR. RIECHERS: Let me read the last five years: 2002, 65 million; 2003, 9 million, that was the hurricane year; 2004, 23 million; 2005, 32 million and then last year, 25 million.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Discussion?

John?

COMMISSIONER PARKER: Larry, could you give us a little synopsis about these caps versus closing the season?

DR. McKINNEY: The ‑‑ yes, sir. The concern ‑‑ the concern that we have obviously with the fishing I think that has been raised in the meeting is that ‑‑ and as Robin mentioned, the menhaden are a cornerstone for our sport fishing industry, and in Texas that sport fish fishery is a huge economic engine. We're talking about $1.7 billion a year in economic impact to the state. So in fact when you look at ‑‑ and we just got the numbers this year from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, looking at the differences in fishing in 2001 and 2006, we've seen a 25 percent increase in saltwater fishing in Texas, and a doubling of the number of days fishing.

So it's here, and it's ‑‑ the number of jobs has doubled, from that time. So it's a big economic engine. So our concern in the closure is that, what's the best use of those menhaden? Is it for, you know, cat food and vitamins, or is it to support that sport fishery? And clearly, that's where we want to go.

So that's that side of it. Now, when you look at our data and the data that is collected by the Marine Fisheries Commission, the fishery right now, that population in Texas certainly our recruitment is doing well and in fact increasing, so the fishery is in good shape there. And in the Gulf, it's reported the same.

So clearly the fishery as the best data we have can sustain this level of commercial harvest.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: And in other areas, we know they're susceptible to overharvest.

DR. McKINNEY: And there's been other issues along the East Coast that ‑‑ different species and that type of thing that certainly is ‑‑ there's certainly issues there, and that type of thing. Right now, we're fine. So the goal will ‑‑ would be, we don't want to get in a situation where that would expand; that catch would expand. We have no limits at this time, we have only a season. So any company or anyone who wanted to pursue menhaden could move as many boats as they wish to do, whatever they could do so in that time ‑‑ that period of time.

We've had a history here in the state and I think it's been a good one, of looking ahead at potential conflicts between fisheries and taking action ahead of time to make sure that doesn't happen. An example would be the mullet fishery. There's a huge commercial mullet fishery that goes on in Florida and Alabama and it's causing tremendous problems, conflicts with that harvest there.

We many years ago made the decision to not allow that to develop; that conflict never expanded. We don't want to be in a situation, I don't think, where we have some expansion of industry, a lot of infrastructure is put in, capital is put into it, and then we come back and say, "No, you're going to have to lose all that because of the conflict." It makes more sense to take those steps now, and the staff recommendation we're talking about is one of those things that allows that company to continue to do what it has been, and from the past, but it addresses the issue of, let's not expand that here, let's make that point that reservation of this fish to support the sport fishing is the way we want to go in the future.

(Simultaneous discussion.)

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Seems like a cautionary, sensible approach.

John?

COMMISSIONER PARKER: You mentioned that they're only fishing beyond one mile from shore. Is that one mile or half a mile?

MR. RIECHERS: It's basically one mile. There is a ‑‑ it's a little bit jagged in there, in that they have some different little scenarios regarding around passes and so forth. But ‑‑

COMMISSIONER PARKER: And who sets those borders?

MR. RIECHERS: Those are voluntary rules set by the ‑‑ by Zapata at this point or by Omega Protein. It was ‑‑ originally went into agreement by Zapata, when we first sat down with them and created that agreement.

But those are voluntary rules. The ‑‑

COMMISSIONER PARKER: Larry, do you think that there would be any responsibility on our part for us to set rules instead of the taker setting rules? Because if we're going to let the taker set rules, then we might have to go back and reassess what we've been doing here for ‑‑ on the rest of the Commission with other rules for the last ‑‑ many, many years.

(Simultaneous discussion.)

DR. McKINNEY: Well, two comments. One is ‑‑ and Robin made that point. You know, they've been a very good corporate partner. I mean, they come up with this thing, they recognize that. So they've done that ‑‑

COMMISSIONER PARKER: I agree ‑‑

DR. McKINNEY: — I understand. And so ‑‑

(Simultaneous discussion.)

DR. McKINNEY: — on the other hand, if that's a concern ‑‑

COMMISSIONER PARKER: I'm not talking that way.

DR. McKINNEY: — right. I just want to make that point, that they're ‑‑ you know ‑‑

COMMISSIONER PARKER: We have a responsibility to our citizens ‑‑

DR. McKINNEY: — and the other side of that argument is that, well, if it's been that way and it's been effective, things could change in the future. Management, from either perspective, why not codify that and say, Let's make that a rule and we'll all live by it. And if that's been working, then ‑‑ if that's what you're saying; certainly that's a ‑‑ we can do that. What was that, you can consider it and allow comment on that type of thing, should you choose to proceed with this, and that would be something you could do.

COMMISSIONER PARKER: So then you all would go over all of the points of the ‑‑ whether it's going to be a mile or half a mile or eight-tenths ‑‑

DR. McKINNEY: Uh-huh.

COMMISSIONER PARKER: — or a mile and a half or whatever you all think ‑‑

DR. McKINNEY: You would have to ‑‑ I'm sorry.

COMMISSIONER PARKER: — and then come back with a recommendation.

DR. McKINNEY: You would ‑‑ I'm playing Ann Bright's role here, and I'm serious, she's going to nod at me here in a second. If you wanted to do that, you'd have to propose it as a rule, because that would be a restrictive type thing; you couldn't ‑‑ come back without putting it out for public comment and let people comment on that. We'd have to put it in this proposal, if that's what your desire is, so that it could be considered ‑‑

(Simultaneous discussion.)

DR. McKINNEY: ‑‑ see, she's giving me the nod that I'm doing ‑‑ saying the right thing, so that ‑‑

(Simultaneous discussion.)

DR. McKINNEY: — again, if it's more restrictive, which this would be, you'd have to propose that so that you could either adopt it or not, depending on the public comment that you got. So, yes, sir. If you wanted to consider that, and we could, then we would need to put this in the proposal to go forward with public comment.

COMMISSIONER PARKER: I would think, to protect ourselves with our constituency, we need to be making the rules.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Say that again, John? We need to do what?

COMMISSIONER PARKER: We need to be making the rules.

(Simultaneous discussion.)

COMMISSIONER PARKER: We need to have the rules written down ‑‑

(Simultaneous discussion.)

COMMISSIONER PARKER: And there's some other things with regard ‑‑

(Simultaneous discussion.)

DR. McKINNEY: And if I could get Pete up here for just a second, I'm sorry ‑‑ Colonel Flores was telling me, he thinks actually that mile and some of the new sites may be in statute, but we do need to check that.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Well, that leads to my question ‑‑ I was going to ask how you enforce it, then. I mean, where's the enforcement? I mean, I understand voluntary, and they've been a good corporate citizen, but how do we know? I mean, it sounds like ‑‑

COL. FLORES: For the record, Colonel Pete Flores, Director of Law Enforcement. To answer your question about the mesh size, and regarding this industry mesh size, the half a mile, the mile is in the statute.

COMMISSIONER PARKER: It's a mile to a mile.

COL. FLORES: It's half ‑‑ it's ‑‑ the mile has to do with, if you're from a jetty, a barrier island, fish pass, when that law was enacted that the Legislature at the time felt that from the fish passes, jetties, et cetera, barrier islands that they needed to be at least a mile offshore.

But other beaches, half a mile.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: So it's a statute.

COL. FLORES: Yes, sir.

(Simultaneous discussion.)

COL. FLORES: And so is the mesh of the tackle; but I believe there's nothing ‑‑ I think it's regulation as ‑‑ so far as how much can be harvested is in regulations ‑‑ but everything else would have to be changed by legislative action. If we were to go a mile, or a mile further.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: I would suggest that we ‑‑ thank you, appreciate it. I would suggest that we go out with the total allowable catch and get public comment on that.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Can I ‑‑ I'm sorry ‑‑

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: I thought you had a couple questions.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: — let me just ask the question again so I get clarity. I'm sorry, I was out for a couple of minutes. Relative to the fishery itself, I understood not only off the Texas ‑‑ I mean, in the Texas waters but in the Gulf overall you feel the fishery ‑‑ and this is a report not just through us, but ‑‑

DR. McKINNEY: It's not our opinion; that's the result of our ‑‑

COMMISSIONER HOLT: — the fishery's in good shape, and recruitment's in good shape. Am I saying that correct?

DR. McKINNEY: Yes, sir.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: So let's ‑‑

DR. McKINNEY: The fishery is sustainable, and the recruitment is increasing, and ‑‑

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: We're just kind of looking ahead ‑‑

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. I don't mind looking ahead, but I just want to make sure we get that out there, that there's an understanding right now, from your science and from our thought-process at Texas Parks and Wildlife, which is driven by your science, is that the fishery's in good shape. And recruitment is in good shape. Healthy, whatever terms you want to use.

DR. McKINNEY: Yes.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. So I don't mind looking ahead, but I want to make sure we've got a good corporate citizen here, who's done everything, I think you said, that you've asked them to do. There is an importance to this at some economic level, it is supplying the needs of agriculture and individuals who do Omega 3 and I think everybody does it now, because we read in every magazine, every doctor will tell you, you should take it for your heart or something.

And the fishery's in good shape, and recruitment's in good shape. So I'm sitting here saying to myself, Well, now, let's I guess be careful about not overregulating. That's not what this Commission's about, to be blunt with you.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: And currently the outtake appears to be minimal, by comparison ‑-

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes ‑‑

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: — I mean ‑‑

(Simultaneous discussion.)

COMMISSIONER HOLT: I'm throwing that out to get any kind of feedback. If I'm saying anything wrong, please correct me.

MR. RIECHERS: And I just want to go back and try to clarify this confusion between the voluntary portion and the ‑‑ what is in statute. A half a mile is in statute. They have voluntarily moved themselves out further than that. It's three-quarters of a mile in some situations and then it's one mile off of channels and jetties.

And in Pete's last point, we do have authority under proclamation to regulate; we don't necessarily have to go back to legislation, because we have the same authorities we have with other fin-fish species and non-game species. We can do that as a Commission action here as well.

So I just ‑‑ go back and clarify those points as best we can for the record.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: But they're the only ones doing it, and they've done it voluntarily.

MR. RIECHERS: That's correct.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Gentlemen? Did we get to your question?

VOICE: Well ‑‑

COMMISSIONER HOLT: He answered mine.

COMMISSIONER PARKER: I'll go with his recommendation, and ‑‑ putting the total allowable catch, with ‑‑

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any other questions?

(Simultaneous discussion.)

DR. McKINNEY: Although this would be as far as you could go, we couldn't do a closure on this, because obviously that would be more restrictive; that's not ‑‑ I want to make sure everyone understands that ‑‑

(Simultaneous discussion.)

COMMISSIONER HOLT: I understand.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: All right. Well, thanks for all your hard work on this, appreciate it. Thanks, guys.

MR. RIECHERS: Lastly, just very quickly and it won't take up any more of your time; you know, we did scope that voluntary guide certification process. Bottom line to the discussion we had there, there was considerable support for a general concept in that respect. This is one of those things, devil's in the details, and we're going to be working with the guide community to kind of go forward with that, and you'll be hearing back from us at a later period of time on that issue.

MR. BERGER: Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, I'm Mike Berger, Director of the Wildlife Division, and I'm here to talk about some potential changes to our regulations for the upcoming season.

And most of these deal with expanding hunting opportunity.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: I like that.

MR. BERGER: That's a good thing.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, it's a good thing.

MR. BERGER: The first has to do with the mule deer season in the Panhandle, and you can see from this map that this is our current mule deer seasons by the colors and you can see that there are a few counties that are un-colored, where there is currently no mule deer open season.

And this is our proposal, that we would consider adding Sherman County and Hansford County in the northern Panhandle, and Gaines, Martin and the eastern half of Andrews County to the Southwest Panhandle season.

These have mule deer populations in scattered areas of good habitat, and we believe could withstand the harvest of some buck mule deer out of these counties.

And this wouldn't have any effect on the overall population, but would offer additional hunting opportunity in those counties.

Next has to do with the Panhandle pheasant season. Currently this ‑‑ these counties have an open pheasant season from the first Saturday in December for 30 consecutive days. And in the six northwestern counties, Dalham, Hartley, Moore, Oldham, Potter and Sherman, the seasons for whitetail and mule deer run from the Saturday before Thanksgiving for 16 days.

And what this really means is that the last weekend of the mule and whitetail deer season overlaps with the opening weekend of the pheasant season. And this sometimes creates a difficult opportunity for our law enforcement personnel to cover two seasons, one of which is opening. So the solution for this would be to delay the opening of the pheasant season by one week, so that it would open the second Saturday in December, and run for 30 consecutive days.

This would give, I think, some more hunting opportunity to those people who hunt mule deer the last weekend, and hunt pheasant starting the next weekend. It's no shortening of the number of days of hunting, no change in the bag limit, and it puts it clearly through the Christmas-Thanksgiving holidays; I mean, Christmas-New Year's holidays, for children.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Mr. Berger, I've got a question on, well, providing opportunity. If you do separate seasons, economically the opening day of pheasant season is the busiest day at the Amarillo airport all year. And so would this impact the number of pheasant hunters that were unable to combine a pheasant and deer hunt on the same weekend?

MR. BERGER: For those that were doing that, I suspect that it would.

COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: I want to listen real carefully to the Chamber and the guides about the impact that's going to have, because a lot of people go in that December time frame, for some reason just kind of taper off after the first of the year. I'd be worried about that kind of economic impact ‑‑

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: A mixed bag aspect is appealing to a lot of people ‑‑

(Simultaneous discussion.)

COMMISSIONER HOLT: It's the one weekend there's an overlap. Am I understanding it right?

MR. BERGER: Right, correct.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: And that's your big weekend.

MR. BERGER: Well, in those six counties, mule deer and whitetail are the same dates, and they're over ‑‑ they're 16 days. And the last weekend of those three is, the Saturday is the opening day of ‑‑

MR. COOK: Start of the pheasant ‑‑

(Simultaneous discussion.)

COMMISSIONER HOLT: — so actually theoretically you can hunt all three, that last weekend, starting that Saturday ‑‑ Saturday, Sunday.

MR. BERGER: Right. Right.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: And then the mule deer-whitetail ends, and then pheasant is all you have from then on for 30 days.

MR. BERGER: From then on. Right.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: I would be interested in looking into that ‑‑

(Simultaneous discussion.)

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: — just to make sure that we don't ‑‑ in thinking that we're providing more opportunity, we may be in some ways depriving ‑‑

MR. BERGER: Well, yes. And this is being put out for public comment before discussion, so ‑‑

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Sure. That's why I'm bringing it up ‑‑

MR. BERGER: — we'll be careful to take a very close look at that.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Right.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Well, you said law enforcement. Has there been some issue?

MR. BERGER: Just that you have a staff ‑‑ if Pete wants to comment on that, I'll be happy to let him. But there's just been some concern that you have a staff that's trying to enforce the last of the mule deer and whitetail deer season, at the same time there's a large influx of people for the opening weekend of pheasant season.

As Mr. Bivins said, that's the biggest day of hunting opening in the Panhandle. So it puts additional pressures on that staff. And there's not ‑‑ for the proposal that's here, there's not a biological impact ‑‑

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Either way ‑‑

MR. BERGER: — to this.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Well, Pete. You want to speak to that? I don't know if I ‑‑ I mean, I understand what you're saying, Mike, but maybe I could just get a direct comment.

COL. FLORES: Pete Flores, Director of Law Enforcement. Our staff in the Panhandle, of course you can have wardens up there, and as Mr. Bivins knows, that have one, two counties each, and our relationship with the landowners over there is pretty tight, as it is all over Texas. And we get the calls in all the different seasons going on at once, and when you have as sparse of a staff as we do in the Panhandle it becomes problematic at times. And this was a way that our staff approached Dr. Berger to see if it ‑‑ that could be worked out, so we could continue to address the needs of our constituency, of the landowners. And also at the same time, perhaps provide an opportunity for more youth, who are off during the Christmas holidays, to be able to take advantage of the pheasant season.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: All right.

(Simultaneous discussion.)

COL. FLORES: So that was as they were ‑‑ as our boys in the Panhandle put to us; this is to staff.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: And how do we get real focus? Will you get on that Mark, or can you ‑‑

(Simultaneous discussion.)

MR. BERGER: I think we could have public hearings scheduled in that part of the world for this ‑‑

(Simultaneous discussion.)

MR. COOK: I almost hate to roll this out, but I can't resist. From a biological standpoint, what if you just added a week to the season?

MR. BERGER: I'd like to look at some numbers, but I don't think that would hurt, that ‑‑ it doesn't solve ‑‑

(Simultaneous discussion.)

MR. BERGER: — but I don't think that would hurt.

MR. COOK: It doesn't solve that, doesn't address that issue if and where there is a problem.

VOICE: Right.

MR. COOK: It doesn't solve that particular conflict problem.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: And is the take really going to be that much more, if you just add a week, is what you're saying.

MR. COOK: Well, providing it's holiday hunting period.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: No, I understand.

MR. BERGER: Because we start the first Saturday, then sometimes that makes it close just before New Year's; occasionally. Adding another week would get it past that period, so ‑‑

COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: We ‑‑ I like Bob's idea of going into that first week of January because a lot of them are on vacation ‑‑

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Oh, yes. Most schools don't go back early, the 4th or 5th ‑‑

MR. BERGER: We could, at a minimum, this proposal, add it to 37 days ‑‑

COMMISSIONER HOLT: I'm sorry?

MR. BERGER: We could amend the proposal we put out for comment to 37 days, which would allow us some flexibility when we come back in March, to tweak that.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: I love adding days, but ‑‑ for lots of different reasons, but I understand biology and science is always number one. But ‑‑

MR. COOK: Because of that holiday period, I see some of the guys that I know back there back there shaking their heads, so I imagine Mike will have some good advice for us, but I'd like for you all to consider that, and ‑‑

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, absolutely.

MR. COOK: — maybe let's go out and bounce it out and see what ‑‑

COMMISSIONER HOLT: That's part of our job, is to try to create more opportunity, when scientifically correct.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Can you just let me know when those meetings will be, and where?

MR. BERGER: Sure.

(Simultaneous discussion.)

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, you'll be the guy getting the call.

(Simultaneous discussion.)

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: And Mike let us know when you've looked at some of that data.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: It's going to be exciting if we're going to add some days.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: I have one other question, on the volume line, and it's not directly involved in this but it is from an ancillary basis. There was some discussion in the six counties that have a three-weekend whitetail season, and opening those six counties up to the full whitetail season. Is that still being discussed?

MR. BERGER: That ‑‑ what we've tried to get on here is, a like three-year rotation without visiting all the regulations every year. This year was the mule deer regulations, to look at. Next year we're going to be back into the whitetail cycle and we will take that into consideration at that time; we know we've been ‑‑ that that has been a proposal, to look at that. Particularly I think not so much in the northwest counties but in the eastern Panhandle counties too. You get a longer season. So, yes. That will be looked at in the next cycle; we'll be examining that with our staff, deer committee and our whitetail deer advisory.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Okay. Thank you.

COMMISSIONER MARTIN: Will there be any help for that one weekend with the game wardens? I mean, is help on the way, for maybe that possible one weekend coming to ‑‑

(Simultaneous discussion.)

COMMISSIONER MARTIN: — just to alleviate, you know, the extra workload there ‑‑

COL. FLORES: I know it's cold up there. I was up there a little while ‑‑ but it's nice. But certainly I'd say either way this goes, I appreciate Dr. Berger and the Wildlife staff for at least listening to the field staff that's doing the job on the ground, and that's what this is about, and also looking at a way to increase opportunity.

Certainly as ‑‑ from the Law Enforcement Division we're looking at attrition; we're having a lot of people retire right now. And including a lot of people in the Panhandle. But to answer your question, hopefully, yes. We will certainly get more people up there, certainly I'll tell you, whatever decision you make, from an enforcement perspective we'll do the best we can to make it work.

COMMISSIONER MARTIN: Now, when do these new graduates get underway here?

COL. FLORES: This particular class that's cooking right now, it will be out in May. And then we will begin our recruitment in March for the next class, which will begin October 1st, and hopefully we'll have another one after that. But we're making plans to get those ranks filled just as quickly as possible.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay, thank you.

COL. FLORES: Thank you.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Mike, would you just quickly recap what we're going out with, please.

MR. BERGER: My understanding, we would go out with starting the season on the second Saturday in December, and we would add seven additional days, making it run for, instead of for 30 consecutive days, for 37 days consecutive days.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Right.

MR. BERGER: Then depending on what the comment is, you can decide in March whether you want to start it ‑‑ leave it as, the opening day as it is now and accept 37 days, or start it the second and go for 30 days or 37 days.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay. Great. Now I see it. Good.

MR. BERGER: Okay?

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you.

MR. BERGER: Speaking of adding days, under current rule the quail season is a statewide season and it opens on the Saturday closest to October 28th. And closes on the last Sunday in February, which is roughly equivalent to the whitetail deer season close. However on Level 2 and Level 3, managed lands properties, that deer may be taken in those properties until the end of February, which is sometimes different than the last Sunday in February.

So what we're going to propose is to add ‑‑ or to change the quail season to close on the last day in February, rather than the last Sunday in February.

MR. COOK: For everybody.

MR. BERGER: For everybody.

(Simultaneous discussion.)

MR. BERGER: The quail goes to the end of the MLD season. I recognize that sometimes these seasons then are going to close on a Saturday. One year out of seven we're going to probably close on a Saturday and not have the Sunday opening with that, or the Sunday closing with that. But.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: But you've got the extra days ‑‑

MR. BERGER: But you're going to have extra days, yes.

(Simultaneous discussion.)

MR. BERGER: Dove season we get in with the federal government, dealing with them on numbers of days and counting backwards —

(Simultaneous discussion.)

MR. BERGER: Next is the minimum draw weight for lawful archery equipment. Currently we have this requirement for a 40-pound minimum peak draw weight, when hunting turkey, all game animals other than squirrels. And many states have been reducing this requirement. Few have this high a draw rate requirement any longer. Many have gone to a 30-pound draw weight minimum, and a few have gone to no draw weight minimum.

And this we think would increase the opportunity for folks of smaller stature, smaller frames, youngsters who can get into hunting with a lighter draw weight bow, and so we're receptive to this. And our recommendation is to eliminate the peak draw weight and encourage all bow hunters to practice more, become very familiar with their equipment and learn its capabilities, and learn distance estimation so they can shoot efficiently and effectively.

(Simultaneous discussion.)

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: I'm obviously in favor of this, particularly with the change in technology of the 40-pound bow ten years ago is different than a 40-pound bow today. What about increasing the training portion, you know, on our hunter's education on archery, so that we can get into shot placement, and the shots that you take and don't take and a little bit more education than we currently provide.

MR. BERGER: We currently are teaching 10 hours, and we'll add another proposal, the next slide after this, but we're teaching ten hours of hunter education over a two-day period. And I don't think it would be very difficult at all, and there's a component in there already for archery. So I don't think it would be difficult ‑‑

(Simultaneous discussion.)

MR. BERGER: — a little more emphasis in there. It's also interesting that the archery in the schools program that you've heard about I think they're using 20-pound bows right now. So they're learning a lot with lighter poundage bows, and they could easily step up to something larger, and should, as they grow up and develop.

But this allows youngsters or smaller-framed people to get ‑‑

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Yes. I just think we need to help educate people about it. Because ultimately that's ‑‑ you know, that's what's going to help people have success in the field. Is you can't say, you know, one 18-pound bow system might be more powerful than another 25-pound bow system.

MR. BERGER: Right.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: So it's not a concern about using a metric like pounds.

MR. BERGER: Right. And some people ‑‑ I don't know of any state that's done it, but have said you know for traditional ‑‑

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Right.

MR. BERGER: — retain the heavier draw weight, and for compound bows, use a lighter draw weight. But I think that just ‑‑

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Gets a little complicated.

MR. BERGER: — complicates enforcement, to do that. So ‑‑ that would be our proposal, is just to eliminate that draw weight requirement.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: And let's take a look at expanding the hunter's education portion ‑‑

MR. BERGER: I'm sure we can ‑‑

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: — as we just described.

MR. BERGER: — do that.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Comments, or ‑‑

COMMISSIONER HOLT: I don't see the catfish in here. I couldn't resist.

(Simultaneous discussion.)

MR. BERGER: Next has to do with the proof of sex requirement. We have a statute that requires that evidence of the gender of a deer accompany the deer to its final destination. Generally that has meant the head of the deer, that has to accompany it to its final destination for process; or the hunter has to obtain a signed statement from the landowner, or if he's delivered it to a taxidermist, to ‑‑ as to the gender of the deer.

So what we're going to propose is to allow some permits that we issue already to serve as proof of sex in lieu of the head or in lieu of signed statements. And these would be, MLD, LAMPS, antlerless mule deer permits, special public hunting permits, and the antlerless and spike deer control permits.

So with those permits attached to the deer, there would not be a necessity to retain a head, or have another statement signed by the landowner.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Now, a Wildlife Resource document would not count, or is that considered ‑‑

MR. BERGER: A Wildlife Resource document would reference whatever tag, whether it was a license tag or one of these tags, a Wildlife Resource document would reference that tag number, and so could be ‑‑

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: So it could be ‑‑

MR. BERGER: — tracked.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: — so we should probably list that as well, or is that just covered in these ‑‑

MR. BERGER: I think that would ‑‑ let us check on that ‑‑

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Let's see if that would ‑‑

MR. COOK: By the time you make a decision about the Wildlife Resource document, you've already got one of them on it.

COL. FLORES: Peter Flores, Director of Law Enforcement. To answer your questions, Commissioner, the Wildlife Resource document would ‑‑ these will go with the meat; and if I was to send the head to the taxidermist, the Wildlife Resource document would go with the head. That's how that would work. So while that Wildlife Resource document has still served its purpose, but these for all the ‑‑ these have all the information needed for the proof of sex that law enforcement would be satisfied with.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: That clarifies it. Thank you.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, I was going to say. Wow, I'm impressed.

(Simultaneous discussion.)

MR. BERGER: And finally with regard to hunter education certification, the hunter education statute allows the Commission to set the age for certification in the hunter education program. And the hunter education staff has recommended lowering the age to nine years from ‑‑ its current 12 years of age.

And this would help us in a number of ways. It would allow youth who are in the youth hunting program, which has a nine-year minimum age requirement, and requires the youth to participate in hunter education; and also the laws in several states which require a hunter education certificate for hunters, regardless of age. For example, New Mexico allows people to hunt at ten years of age, but only with a hunter education certificate. And under our current program, the youth can take the program and qualify younger than 12, but can't get the certificate until they're 12.

So by reducing the age to nine, it would allow the certificate to be issued to younger age and help those hunters who are going out of state where those states have that requirement; would also help in our youth hunting program, allow them to participate at a younger ‑‑ at the nine-year age where that's the rule now.

And also we would ‑‑ another amendment would clarify that the hunter education course must be completed over a two-day period. And that's what we're doing right now; it's always been taught over a two-day period. It takes ten hours, and we think that's ‑‑ the hunter education staff feels like if you did ten hours in one day that would be overburdening the youth, to have to try to concentrate and keep focus for a ten-hour period.

So just put this in the rule to clarify what we're already doing, is to have the minimum course time would be over a two-day period.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Can I just ask a question, and I'm kind of throwing it out rhetorically. Is this an issue keeping people from hunting, the two days?

COMMISSIONER PARKER: Say that again, Peter.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Is the two days ‑‑ I'm not ‑‑ I want hunter safety; I'm not ‑‑ of course. But is the two days ‑‑ I don't know what's the right word, keeping people from getting into hunting? Is it creating ‑‑

VOICE: Scaring them off ‑‑

COMMISSIONER HOLT: — scaring them off? I mean, I'm just asking the sense of. I mean, obviously I don't know if we've ever done any studies or surveys, but ‑‑

MR. BERGER: Steve.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: — Steve, maybe you can answer that question. Did you hear me ‑‑

MR. BERGER: I'll let Steve come by me. We ‑‑ there is a requirement for all entering hunters to take ‑‑ be certified ‑‑

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Oh, no. I'm not saying ‑‑ not to have hunting ‑‑

MR. BERGER: — and so ‑‑

(Simultaneous discussion.)

COMMISSIONER HOLT: I'm not saying having hunter ‑‑ do not ‑‑ I'm not saying, stop hunter education.

MR. BERGER: No, I understand.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: I'm saying, is the two days a barrier, and/or the length of it, being the ten hours; and I don't know where the ten hours came from, if it's a scientific study, that's what's been developed over the many years, through many states. So is it a barrier to hunting, I guess, is it ‑‑ getting people into become hunters.

MR. HALL: Mr. Chairman, members of the Committee, my name is Steve Hall, Education Director, responsible for the hunter education program. Is it a barrier? There are no data that suggest that it is. Right now, the only data that exists in terms of barrier is that 2 percent, there's essentially hunter education is a barrier for 2 percent of the people wanting to get into hunting, and it also recruits 2 percent, so it's kind of a wash.

But ten hours over two days, we've worked with that currently for two reasons. One is, many of the state laws have ten hours in their state requirements. So for example, Colorado. So when we send somebody that's taken the Texas course to Colorado, it meets their minimum that's in their state law, even though it may not be in the Texas law.

The other reason is that we've done, with internet study, we've done ‑‑ we give them six hours' credit of internet study, so we get around that by, you know, if you take the six hour, you're still only going to a four-hour, one-day class, and by the way, Commissioner Friedkin, that does include the shot selection, shot placement, and archery as part of the field day experience, which is how we try to get at that issue as well.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. So ‑‑ but if we say you got to take a minimum course of two days, then how does that affect the internet thing?

COMMISSIONER PARKER: Then we need to clarify that a little bit ‑‑

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Then we need to clarify.

MR. HALL: It ‑‑ well, this is clarifying what we already have in place is two days, where they're still getting six hours of internet requirement; that's one day. And they're still getting the four-day follow-up, that's the second day. That's two days, that's ‑‑

MR. BERGER: Four hours.

MR. HALL: — well, it's four hours but they get six hours of internet, and that also qualifies as a day as well. So ‑‑

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Well, I'm just trying to be ‑‑

(Simultaneous discussion.)

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Can I take my six and four all on the same 24-hour period?

MR. HALL: Which ‑‑ well, which means that what we do for the folks that need it on one day, in terms of the barrier we can ‑‑ we have that alternate delivery where, yes, they're going to have to take something home, but they only have to be proctored for one day, or at least a half a day in this case.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Well, I guess that's where I'm a little confused, because we're saying we're going to ‑‑ you're asking us to go to a minimum course time of two days. It's ‑‑ I'm sorry, maybe I'm ‑‑

MR. HALL: Well, right now it's not in the rule; we do that anyway but it's not in the rule. This clarifies it. There have been situations where we've had folks argue that, Gosh, I should be able to take all of that ten hours in one day. And by policy we've always disallowed that.

COMMISSIONER PARKER: I don't think you guys are on the same page yet.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: We've always had a two-day ‑‑

COMMISSIONER HOLT: That's ‑‑ I'm not making myself clear ‑‑

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: — we've always had a two-day minimum. Or we ‑‑ I don't know about always, but we currently have a two-day minimum. Correct? And that would remain a two day; but we define one of those days as the internet portion. Is that right? Or does that require a clarification?

MR. HALL: Yes. Conceivably we do it. And internet's only one side of the story. The other side of the story is classroom courses, which do require a minimum of two days, by policy.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: If you ‑‑

MR. HALL: This two days makes it by rule.

(Simultaneous discussion.)

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Let's back up and maybe I can try to clarify.

MR. HALL: Okay.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: If I understand what you said, and let's talk about the six hours internet and the four hours, that I do actually have to go, field.

MR. HALL: Correct.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: You're saying if I do that six hours internet and four hours field, that fulfills my requirement and I can get a hunter education certificate.

MR. HALL: Correct.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay, let me just ‑‑ so theoretically I could do the six hours in the morning or in the middle of the night, within a 24-hour period, and then do the four hours, so all of that is in one 24-hour period. Am I saying that correctly, in other words I could do ten hours within that 24 hours.

MR. HALL: Theoretically, yes.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. So the reason I'm asking that is, now you're saying something about, you want us to vote on or reg it or whatever, that minimum course time has to be two days. So to me, that's two 24-hour ‑‑ I mean, I've got to do something in one 24-hour period, and then something else in another 24-hour period. So I guess that's where I'm a bit confused on what we're ‑‑

MR. HALL: Yes, and ‑‑

COMMISSIONER HOLT: — what you're asking here, on this. Maybe I'm making it too complicated.

MR. HALL: — the way this should read, it more correctly is, minimum course time is ten hours in two days. That's what our current policy is. Ten hours in two days. This says, "two days" which to me says ‑‑

(Simultaneous discussion.)

COMMISSIONER FALCON: Like does that also mean ‑‑ like if somebody wants to do two hours a day for three days, and then do the field study, is that okay?

MR. HALL: Sure.

VOICE: No problem.

COMMISSIONER FALCON: Okay.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: This is minimum course time. See, you can do what he ‑‑ you can spread it out over I guess a week if you want to.

MR. HALL: And our high schools do that, for sure.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Well, let's just take a look at that and make sure that we're clear ‑‑

(Simultaneous discussion.)

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, that there's clarity here ‑‑

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: — and that it's defined. You know. So Option A is, two days, define "two days." Option B is, internet time and whatever the rest is, four hours.

COMMISSIONER FALCON: Peter, is your concern that somebody doesn't have to go to another place for two days to get the course, is that ‑‑

COMMISSIONER HOLT: No, my concern is, they're saying one of the reasons you're doing this is so ‑‑ I guess some other states have two-day requirements, otherwise I don't understand why I can't do my ten hours in ten hours. See? I mean, to me. And I understand though, he said instructors prefer that not be done because then you're trying to cram too much in too short a time, you don't retain, et cetera. So I'm not really arguing one way or another; I'm just trying ‑‑ I think I'm saying what Dan's saying, to make sure it's clear.

So that now I don't read that and I say, "Well, I think I'm going to do the six hours on Saturday and the four hours on Sunday, or ‑‑ "

COMMISSIONER PARKER: You can do the internet after midnight ‑‑

(Simultaneous discussion.)

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Because then I'm saying to somebody, I'm going to make it harder on you ‑‑

COMMISSIONER PARKER: Show up on Saturday morning ‑‑

COMMISSIONER HOLT: — yes. I mean, you should be able to get it done in ten hours in my opinion, but ‑‑

MR. COOK: Steve, we still have the, whatever you want to call it, the freebie year?

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes ‑‑

MR. HALL: Correct. The ‑‑

MR. COOK: I think that's relevant to this discussion. Explain what that is.

MR. HALL: The Hunter Ed deferral essentially gives a person that missed the five-year window of opportunity to go get hunter education, when they turn 17, it gives that person an added year if they, for whatever reason, didn't go and get the course, it gives them an added year by purchasing the deferral, it defers it a year; up to a year. Up to a year, and that just essentially gives us a six-year window now.

This will now give us, by the way, from nine through 16 year of opportunities to go get the course, so it just extends that as well.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Oh, I like that. I don't have any problem with ‑‑

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: You have to buy the deferral?

MR. HALL: Correct.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: How much does it cost?

MR. HALL: Ten dollars. Of which, when they take it and it looks like a license and they take and attach it and get a $5 discount during the course, so ‑‑

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, it's ‑‑ my son did it.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: At the risk of burning more time on this, can you get some information to us on what we're doing too? I know we talked about it several Commission meetings ago, but information on what we're doing to get the word out to youth, and to parents, hunting parents of hunting youth, that this internet option is available to them. A lot of people don't know about it. So.

MR. HALL: Great.

COMMISSIONER PARKER: Thank you.

(Simultaneous discussion.)

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any other questions?

(No response.)

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you very much. Okay. If there are no further questions or discussion, I'll authorize staff to publish this item in the Texas Register for the required public comment period.

Committee Item Number 3. Amendments to the Statewide Fur-Bearing Animal Proclamation. Mr. John Young.

MR. YOUNG: Mr. Chairman, Committee members, my name is John Young, I'm a wildlife biologist with the Wildlife Division. I'm here to brief you today on proposed changes to the fur-bearing animal proclamation that we're publishing in the Texas Register, and the comments that we received on those.

We've basically had three changes to make to the regulations. One of those was lengthening of the beaver season, we were asked to extend the commercial beaver season to October 1 through May 31st, establishing a three-month longer season.

We propose to change terminology from leghold to foothold. This is in keeping with terminology that's been suggested by the International Association of Wildlife Agencies to be more appropriate for calling traps. And then we propose to make a reduction of the fee for the non-resident wholesale fur dealer's license from $600 to $250, and this is to make our fees more consistent with adjacent states, and to attract non-resident fur dealers to Texas.

Okay. We received two ‑‑ a total of two public comments. Only two negative comments, one of those was regarding the wholesale fur dealer permit fee decrease. A gentleman suggested that nonresident fees should not be reduced, they should be increased, and his thinking was that we should be saving Texas wildlife for Texans.

And then in an unrelated change to our regulations, another gentleman proposed that we should have no commercial harvests allowed at all. Are there any questions?

COMMISSIONER PARKER: Why are you ‑‑ other than to make the fees consistent with adjacent states?

MR. YOUNG: We ‑‑ for the first ‑‑ the question was, why are we changing fees other than to make it consistent with other states. For the first time, the Texas trappers and fur harvesters held their ‑‑ held a fur-buying session in Texas. And that was last year, and they were told by the fur dealers who were coming from out of state that the $600 license fee was a barrier to them coming here. So instead of being able to attract seven or eight out-of-state fur buyers, I think they were able to attract one or two. And then of course the other two were in-state fur buyers. So by attracting more out-of-state fur buyers, they're driving a higher price for their furs.

COMMISSIONER PARKER: I understand.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you. Appreciate it.

Okay. Any other questions ‑‑ if there are no further questions or discussion I will place this item on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action.

Item Number 4, Controlled Exotic Snake Permits and Fees. David Sinclair.

MAJ. SINCLAIR: I asked the Colonel if he'd like to do this one; he's on a roll.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: It's all up there in that head of his, isn't it.

MAJ. SINCLAIR: I'm Major David Sinclair ‑‑

MR. COOK: Yes, you need to be careful, Sinclair. We saw your hunting license this morning ‑‑

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, we did.

MR. COOK: — from 1976 ‑‑

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Eight dollars and 50 cents.

COMMISSIONER PARKER: Was that 1900 or 1800?

(Simultaneous discussion.)

MR. COOK: I can tell you is, the price of the license has gone up, and the color of the hair has changed ‑‑

(Simultaneous discussion.)

MAJ. SINCLAIR: I'm Major David Sinclair, Chief of Fisheries and Wildlife Enforcement. This afternoon I'll be discussing the proposal related to the exotic snake permit regulations. Now, this particular legislation came out of the 80th Session, it was House Bill 12, which created this, and it ‑‑ requires that the Commission create a recreational and a commercial permit to possess and transport non-indigenous venomous snakes and certain constrictors.

This will apply to all venomous snakes not indigenous to Texas, four species of pythons, one anaconda, and hybrids of these listed species.

Now, here's some photographs of the listed constrictors, the African rock python, the Asiatic rock python, the reticulated python, the Southern African python and the green anaconda. The two permit types that are required, the recreational permit will allow for the possession and transport of the controlled exotic snakes, but it does not allow the sale.

Staff is recommending a $20 fee for that, and that's for an unlimited number of snakes. On the commercial controlled exotic snake permit, it allows for the possession, transport and sale of the snakes, staff is recommending a $60 fee, and this is also unlimited number of snakes, and the permit is valid from September 1st or from the time of purchase, through August 31st.

On the commercial permit, it's required for each permanent place of business where the affected snakes are sold, the permit has to be in the name of a person. Employees may sell at that place of business, and only at that place of business.

The permittee will be required to maintain daily records of the commercial activities, where snakes are purchased and who they're sold to, little types of things. And I think this particular part of the rule is important because there will be an interim study report going to the Governor September '08, and this will help gather some information for that particular study.

These records must be kept for two years and made available upon request by game wardens or any other authorized employee of the Department. Now, with regard to the commercial permit, permittee or employee must notify all recreational purchasers that they'll have a 21-day period to obtain a recreational license. If they walk in off the street into a pet store, well, that store is obligated to tell them they have 21 days.

Now, during that interim period of 21 days, the sales receipt will act as a temporary permit for that recreational possessor.

Now, permit exceptions, these are in statute. State and county officials, licensed zoos, certain research facilities and persons assisting the Department with capturing or relocating these snakes. This is ‑‑ an addition that came out in the public comment, for listed snakes imported by a common carrier into Texas bill of lading will act as a temporary permit.

It's my understanding that Delta Airlines is the only airlines that brings in snakes, poisonous snakes to Texas, so the bill of lading will cover those personnel on that aircraft, or it would, you know, be valid for someone driving a vehicle as well.

Now, the next slide, there's several of these regulations that are right out of statute, and we thought we would put those in the regulation where people wouldn't have to be looking in two different places, game wardens or constituents could go to one place and find that.

We have inspection authority for records only; the Department employee is not required to handle, remove, or transport illegally-possessed snakes. The Department may contract for the handling of snakes possessed without a permit and the violator is responsible for paying any of those costs. The Department, including the game warden who acts under the rule is not liable in any civil action. And as with most of our statutes and regulations, those may be enforced by any Texas peace officer.

Which by the way, we're going to, you know, encourage the cities to help out with this. Now, violations and penalties, these are also in statute. A person who releases or allows the release from captivity a snake covered by this rule commits a Class A misdemeanor which is a $500 fine up to $4,000 and/or a year in jail. And I think it's clear from this high penalty this is probably one of the reasons the Legislature enacted this; they didn't want people releasing them into the wild where we end up with a situation like they have in Florida.

Any other violation of the provisions of the rule will be a Class C misdemeanor, and it's a defense to permit prosecution if a person charged produces in court an appropriate valid permit issued to the person when the offense was committed.

On the public comment, probably on your laptops you're seeing a total of 32. This was updated around lunch, so ‑‑ and not on your laptops. We had eight that agreed with the actual permit, and out of those eight there were five written comments. One agreed but felt that the employee should be allowed to transport; staff would recommend that we have a $20 permit for transport, and ‑‑ that those employees could obtain that permit if they need to transport. That would allow them to possess and transport.

There were two that offered ‑‑ they agreed with the regulation, but ‑‑ and offered to assist with the handling. There was one agreed, but thinks that the fear of the release is unfounded. Releasing to the wild was unfounded. And there was one that agreed, thinks that it makes people accountable for possessing these venomous snakes and constrictors.

Those that disagreed, there were 25. We received 22 written comments, of those, 25 ‑‑ 18 basically disagreed with the legislation. They didn't have any real comment about the regulation; they just ‑‑ they don't like the legislation.

Now, there were several that were concerned with herpers going underground with this permit. There was one that was concerned that the permit fee was going to be based on the number of snakes that they've held, and as I've indicated in an earlier slide, it will be just a flat fee regardless of how many snakes that you possess, transport or sell.

Now, there was one that suggested that no records should be used and as I indicated earlier I think that those records will be important in this interim state.

Now, one person indicated that the permit should last for five years, and I think that might be cost-prohibitive to some. This interim study may send this program in an entirely different direction, so I think a one-year period would be the staff's recommendation on the permit.

And then there was one that was opposed to a part of the proclamation which is again out of statute, a person convicted of a violation of a subchapter may not obtain a permit for five years. But that particular part of the regulation is in statute. So it cannot be changed.

And that concludes my presentation. I'd be glad to try and answer any questions.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you.

COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: I have a question. Does the statute require a permit for recreational use of a non-poisonous snake on it?

MAJ. SINCLAIR: For a non-poisonous, no.

COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: It doesn't?

MAJ. SINCLAIR: No.

COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: So we ‑‑

MAJ. SINCLAIR: It's venomous, and five constrictors.

COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Right, and those are not poisonous ‑‑

(Simultaneous discussion.)

COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Constrictors are required ‑‑ permits are required for recreational use of those?

MAJ. SINCLAIR: Correct.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any other questions?

(No response.)

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay, thank you.

MAJ. SINCLAIR: Thanks.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: No further questions or discussion I'll place this item on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action.

To Item Number 5, Deer Breeder Permit Rule Amendments. Clayton Wolf. Clayton?

MR. WOLF: Mr. Chairman and Committee members, for the record my name is Clayton Wolf, I'm Big Game Program Director in the Wildlife Division. This afternoon, I have numerous proposed changes to what is currently our Scientific Breeder Proclamation.

During the last Legislative Session, the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 1308, the passage of 1308 resulted in some significant changes to what were our scientific breeder statutes.

One of the changes was, the permit name was changed to Deer Breeder Permit. So many of the proposals I have for you this morning are mandated by statute just to bring our regulations consistent with the statutes. Also, since we were going through these rules section by section we utilized our ad hoc group that's authorized by Mr. Cook, our breeder user group, to make other changes that will make the rules more functional and do a little bit of clean-up, and housekeeping in the rules.

You'll probably recall in November, there's a lot of information here, none of it's very exciting so I'm going to go fast. Please feel free to interrupt me, if you want further clarification.

Of course as I indicated we propose to amend the name of the permit to Deer Breeder's Permit from Scientific Breeder Permit, and also remove the term "scientific" throughout the rules, and substitute the term, "deer breeder" anywhere "scientific breeder" is found in the ‑‑ our rules.

Also, we propose to repeal the provisions for marking of deer. In essence, the marking of deer will remain the same, we just no longer have any rule making authority, but our previous ‑‑ rules for marking deer have been incorporated into the statute.

We propose to substitute the term, "breeder deer" anywhere "deer" is found in the rules, and also amend antler removal criteria if deer are liberated from a temporary facility, basically if ‑‑ the statute's going to indicate that if a breeder moves a breeder deer during an open hunting season or ten days prior, if it goes to a breeder facility or temporary facility, then they do not have to remove or saw the antlers; however we do have a provision that if they release those deer from a DMP pen, they do have to remove the antlers as prescribed by statute.

We propose to repeal the prohibition for the killing of a deer in a deer-breeding facility, the previous statute had a complete prohibition for killing a deer in a breeding facility, now there's allowance if one is doing that for humane dispatch purposes, or if they're doing that for testing for a reportable disease.

We also are asking to repeal the violation for introducing wild deer into a breeding facility. It will still be a violation to do so, but in essence it will be a violation of our triple-T statutes, and that is actually a Class B misdemeanor as opposed to the old violation in breeder statute which was a Class C misdemeanor.

We are asking to repeal several definitions including "common carrier," "deer," "propagation" and "scientific." And also I want to redefine sale. The term "sale" is used throughout our rules, but it was a bit ambiguous in that it didn't ‑‑ clearly state that that included a transaction that involved a release, and so we just want to make sure that that involves transaction that include releases. We also want to define "accredited test facility" to be any lab that the USDA recognizes for testing chronic wasting disease; our current rules only recognize test results from the Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory.

We also are proposing to define "transfer permit" to basically make the definition consistent with the definition in the statutes. A transfer permit will be needed basically for the movement of any breeder deer; there is one exception, and that is if a breeder is taking a deer to an accredited veterinarian for medical purposes.

We also propose repeal of the requirement for a person to possess a permit to sell a deer. In essence, the requirement is for anyone ‑‑ is for a person to possess a permit for any transfer which would include a sale. And also we would like to clarify that no person may possess live breeder deer outside of a facility unless they have a legible transfer permit.

We want to redefine "unique number" to match statutory language that defines tattooing requirements, basically there's some verbiage in the statute that says how a deer should be tattooed, and for the sake of making our regulations a little more readable, we're just going to define that as a unique number. And we also want to simplify the requirements for a certified wildlife biologist endorsement of application materials, basically what we're proposing is that the breeding plan requirement be removed. It's no longer a document that we look at. The certified wildlife biologist still would have to endorse the facility and indicate that it's adequate to conduct the legal activities.

We propose to repeal the requirement that the original application and also escaped deer notifications be notarized. And we want to allow that if someone applies for a permit in a timely manner, we make allowances if some things happen, like there are catastrophes or family emergencies as long as someone is responding to our request, we will work with them, and if they do not respond to our request then generally speaking we won't renew their permit.

We propose to allow an individual who doesn't have a breeder's permit to possess deer basically if they have a valid transfer permit, and this can be anybody, the previous rules required that; required that some individuals be agents. But basically as long as there's a properly executed transfer permit, anybody can transfer deer if they are in possession of that permit.

We would also propose to repeal the requirement that a deer breeder maintain and on request provide the documentation to all deer in possession. The statutes were changed basically requiring that they only maintain records for the current year and the previous year, and the reality is, it's now with our new database we record all the previous reports, so we've got all the documentation on all the other deer in the facility.

We would like to clarify that breeder facility changes only need to be reported to us if it's to the perimeter of the facility. There was a little bit of ambiguity, or there is ambiguity in our rule right now, and we want to make it clear that cross-fences and changes to the interior do not have to be reported to the Department.

We have several repeals that we're asking for relative to dates. One, we want to repeal the reference to the March 31st, 2007, date when certain disease-monitoring requirements became obsolete. And then also the April 1 date where our current disease-monitoring requirements became effective.

And we also want to specify that May 23, 2006, is the effective date after which eligible mortalities are counted in reference to our new movement qualified status for herds.

As far as public comment is concerned, as I already said we worked with our breeder-user group and they support these; and we also presented these proposals to our Whitetail Deer Advisory Committee. And we've received no comments, positive or negative.

As far as the internet is concerned, we got four comments in agreement. One of those was a qualified comment, and it actually had some merit. The current rules have a provision where ‑‑ we the Department can authorize the transfer of deer out of a facility if it is not movement-qualified and doesn't have an eligible permit, or breeder's permit.

In reality, what that should say is, if the facility is not movement-qualified, or if they do not have a permit. And there's certain instances where we need to authorize that, so we'd like to add for the record that we'd like to change that from "and" to "or" to give us a little bit more flexibility in those situations we can apply that to.

As far as the three comments that disagreed, basically none of those comments were germane to the rule, the proposal specifically; these were basically all comments that people disagreed with the concept of holding deer in captivity.

That concludes my presentation and I'll take any questions.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: All right. Are there any questions from the Commission?

(No response.)

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay. Thanks, Clayton.

MR. WOLF: Thank you.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Appreciate all your hard work, and [inaudible].

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay. Phil Durocher. Hang on, I got something to read here, I think. Okay, if there are no further questions or discussion I'll place this item on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action. And now we are onto Number 6, Harmful or Potentially Harmful Exotic Fish, Shellfish or Aquatic Plants Rules.

MR. DUROCHER: Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, I'm going to try to go through this as quickly as possible. My name is Phil Durocher, I'm with the Inland Fisheries Division.

At the November Commission meeting, the staff proposed amendments to the Harmful or Potentially Harmful Exotic Fish, Shellfish and Aquatic Plant Rules. At that time, what the staff proposed, to prohibit the possession, sale and culture of live silver and black carp in the state of Texas. We also proposed prohibiting the possession, sale and culture of all of the Southern Hemisphere crayfish, except the Australian redclaw crayfish. Now, during discussions with the Commission, the Commission instructed the staff to take a closer look, particularly at the Australian redclaw, to see what the potential was for causing harm and damage to the state of Texas if that species got loose and became established.

When I began to look at this, there was conflicting opinions on the potential impacts from ‑‑ among the staff as well as among a lot of national experts. So what we did was, we sent this to the Heart of the Hills Research Station in Kerrville, and I asked the staff there to conduct a thorough risk analysis of the Australian redclaw to see what the potential was for harm.

We asked them to look at the potential for escapement, whether from a closed or an open system; we asked them to look at the likelihood of establishment if they did escape. What were the potential of those animals becoming established? And we also asked them to look at, if they escaped and became established, what was the potential for negative impacts on native species.

Basically, what we found was that there was a high potential for escapement, these animals are escaping in other parts of the world not only from open systems but from closed systems.

We found that there was a high probability of survival, and a population establishment. The natural habitat of the redclaw is very similar to lots of habitat that's found here in Texas.

And we found that if they escaped and became established there was a high probability of detrimental effects, particularly on native Texas crayfish and of course on other aquatic organisms.

Now, when I was looking through, I have copies here of the risk analysis that was prepared for the staff. If anybody would like to see a copy of this, you're welcome to one. But there was a lot of stuff in here that I learned that I didn't know. For instance, there are 35 species of native crayfish in Texas. And 13 of them are endemic to Texas, and they only occur in small geographical areas. So these are the species that we're really concerned about.

The bottom line is this, the conclusion is that we're recommending to the Commission that when we publish these rules, we include the Australian redclaw crayfish in this prohibition, based on this risk analysis.

Now, another issue that came up since we had this discussion, the Department issues numerous permits for grass carp, the stocking grass carp, triploid grass carp in public impoundments. We do this ‑‑ we issue these permits for entities that have permits from the Agency, with an approved management plan, aquatic vegetation management plan.

These fish cost considerable amounts of money, anywhere from $9 to $13 bucks per individual animals, because of all of the testing that has to take place. And this is usually funded by either the River Authority or the ‑‑ some homeowners' association. What we're recommending here is, to amend the rules, the part of the rules on grass carp to prohibit the taking of these fish from public waters where stockings have been permitted by this Agency.

We thought that that was already in the rules, but apparently it wasn't there, so that's another amendment that we'd like to add to this. So what we're seeking today is permission to publish these amendments to the Harmful or Potentially Harmful Fish and Exotic Plant Rules, and we'll come back to the Commission in March, and we'll publish these and have public hearings.

Now just one thing I want to bring up just briefly. There's a bigger issue here, that we have to deal with regarding these exotics. It's the way the rules are currently in effect; it's a prohibited versus non-prohibited list. The way the rules are currently written, anything that's not on that list, that we haven't put on that list that we don't know about, can be brought into the state and legally possessed, propagated, sold, transferred ‑‑ and you know, a lot of the issues we have now concerning hydrilla, giant salvinia, all these things are things we had not heard about that showed up in the state.

What we have taken a look at, and Larry and I had a discussion on this, and we hope to go down this road in the next couple of years, is seeing if we have to have some legislation passed to how we need to go about changing from a prohibited list to a non-prohibited list.

Similar to what they did with the non-game. In other words, we provide a list of things that are allowed in Texas. Any things that are not allowed on Texas, that aren't on that list, people have to come to us with a risk analysis similar to what we did. That indicates that it would not be a threat to the state of Texas.

Now, there are ‑‑ it's not just about fish and it's not just about aquaculture. There are three different segments to this industry. There's the aquaculture industry, the fish producers. When we went ‑‑ you know, I tried to do this about ten years ago and we got a lot of resistance.

Some resistance from the aquaculture industry, but not as ‑‑ I thought we could work those issues out with the aquaculture industry, because it was important to them. You know, they don't want to invest a lot of money bringing something in here and start producing it and all of a sudden, we put them out of business.

But where most of the opposition came from was the pet trade industry and the ornamental aquatic plants industry. So we expect to have to face that again. I think what we're going to do is begin to work with the aquaculture industry, just deal with that aspect of it, and see if we can make some progress and then we'll deal with the other industries as we get there.

Just as an example of the kind of things we face. I am going to pass this around; I found this, the guys that were doing it ‑‑ guys that were doing the risk analysis found this and they sent it to me as part of this analysis and I want you to take a look at it. And this come from an internet site, "Shop Rockport, Texas." And if you look here in the description, "Get your live Australian redclaw crayfish," or "crayfish, while it's still legal."

They're actually advertising and selling these things over the internet. So ‑‑ and you know, this is just one example of the kind of things we face, usually when we find out about them it's too late and they're already in Texas. So I just wanted you to be aware that we intend to try to address this, from the other direction, similar to what the ‑‑ Matt did with the non-game and the turtles. Yes, sir?

COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: A couple quick comments. I think a tighter lid on exotics is a great idea. And I wonder do we need something like a free, no library fine day where you can bring these things in and not get fined once we pass this, or we run the risk of people releasing them so they don't get caught with them.

I agree with you completely, crayfishes there's just some ‑‑ human nature, probably ‑‑

MR. DUROCHER: Oh, we have some place they can bring them.

COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Someplace they can bring ‑‑

MR. DUROCHER: Bring them to us, you know, we'll ‑‑ we're not going to do anything to them initially, they'll have a period ‑‑ you know, we're in the comment period. Hopefully if they're paying attention to what's going on, they'll be getting rid of them.

(Simultaneous discussion.)

MR. DUROCHER: That's a good point. We certainly ‑‑

(Simultaneous discussion.)

MR. DUROCHER: I hope none of you have any.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: They will be illegal.

(Simultaneous discussion.)

MR. DUROCHER: Thank you, sir. We're going to have permission to publish these amendments ‑‑

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Great. Thank you, Phil. Any questions?

(No response.)

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Phil, any other questions?

(No response.)

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: All right. Let's see. Gosh it's getting blurry here isn't it? Any questions ‑‑ okay if there are no further questions or discussion I'll authorize staff publish this item in the Texas Register for the required public comment period.

Committee Item Number 7, Offshore Aquaculture Permit Rules.

MR. RIECHERS: And I will certainly be brief, as this is a fairly short clarification of the previous rule. Again, these proposed amendments have been published already in the Texas Register and are before you to move to tomorrow for final approval if you so choose. This basically is a clarification of the previous intent of the Offshore Aquaculture Rule which you all adopted in November 2006.

Basically we're going in here and changing a definition, and then changing one item in the general provisions, the definition we're changing is the "outside water" definition, we're creating an aquaculture zone, which basically clearly states that's it's from the barrier islands outward all the way to the nine-mile juncture, where state and federal waters meet, basically.

And then we basically further reference that item in the general provisions, and remove the reference to Outer Continental Shelf Blocks, so while the blocking system moves inshore, apparently it doesn't keep that same nomenclature, when it comes inshore with the General Land Office.

So that's come to our attention and we're just back before you to clarify that and to make sure that there's no confusion, that we never meant this to be in our inside waters and our bay systems, this was an offshore rule all along and we just want to clarify that before anyone confuses that.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Great. Questions? Thank you.

MR. RIECHERS: I might add ‑‑ sorry, I might add, just ‑‑ we did have four comments, internet comments. All were in favor.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Great. Thanks, Robin. If there are no further questions or discussion I'll place this item on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action. And we are through with our business.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Mr. Cook, is there any more ‑‑

MR. COOK: No, sir. There is not.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. You want to talk about something else.

Anyway, this Commission has completed its business; we are adjourned. We'll see everybody tomorrow.

(Whereupon, at 4:50 p.m. the meeting was adjourned.)

C E R T I F I C A T E

MEETING OF: Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
Regulations Committee
LOCATION: Austin, Texas
DATE: January 23, 2008

I do hereby certify that the foregoing pages, numbers 1 through 98, inclusive, are the true, accurate, and complete transcript prepared from the verbal recording made by electronic recording by Penny Bynum before the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission.

02/06/08
(Transcriber) (Date)
On the Record Reporting, Inc.
3307 Northland, Suite 315
Austin, Texas 78731


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