Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
Regulations Committee Meeting

May 24, 2006

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

BE IT REMEMBERED, that heretofore on the 24th day of May, 2006, 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 FITZSIMONS: The first order of business is the approval of previous Committee Meeting minutes.

COMMISSIONER RAMOS: So moved.

COMMISSIONER BROWN: Second.

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Moved by Ramos. Second by Brown. All in favor?

(A chorus of ayes.)

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any opposed?

(No response.)

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Hearing none motion passes. Committee item number one, Land and Water Plan Update. Mr. Cook.

MR. COOK: I'm passing around some stuff I'm going to want to refer to in just a second. The first item I want to tell you about our TPWD Law Enforcement Forensic Laboratory is currently in the process of becoming the only accredited wildlife forensic laboratory in the U.S. at the state level.

The lab recently was inspected as part of their accreditation process. Upon completion of the process the lab will be fully accredited by the American Society of Crime Lab Directors. TPWD has closed another licensed buy-back application period ‑‑ it closed March 31, 2006 ‑‑ for commercial bay and bait shrimp and commercial finfish boat licenses.

In the 18th round for the shrimp buy-back we accepted 119 bids, 60 bay and 59 bait licenses from 179 applicants in this round. If all of these contracts are completed, the cost of purchasing these licenses will be $932,000-and-some change ‑‑ an average cost of about $7,800 for that buy-back group.

Now, the example that I passed to you is just an interesting piece of information. I specifically asked Doc to stay handy in case you want to know very much detail about it. But we got this from our Coastal Fishery guys last week.

What it shows you there is the ‑‑ basically the bottom line is the number of boats that are out shrimping on opening day over the last 14-year, 12-year period. And it tells quite a story. And I wanted to share that with you.

Doc will be talking about this some more later on as we get into the year about where we're going to go to, what we're going to do in the future. Commissioner Brown is very involved in our Coastal Fisheries issues.

It is really a dramatic drop ‑‑ am I right, Doc ‑‑ 57 total boats this year out. There were some weather conditions. But sometimes there are weather conditions other years also. But the difference in something just over 800, just under 900 boats out 12 years ago and the direct, steady decline to 57 boats out this year is dramatic.

COMMISSIONER BROWN: Great trends.

MR. COOK: Some would say a great trend.

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Look at the trend ‑‑ and Larry, correct me if I'm wrong ‑‑ look at the trend in game fish survey numbers. If you plotted that against this graph, it's a good story all the way around. You've heard me ask this question before this morning.

If there is an update on it ‑‑ I think Commissioner Ramos made the point that we shouldn't be spending the money on inactive licenses in the buy-backs. Can you tell me how that's going, that we're pursuing some sort of ‑‑

DR. MCKINNEY: One of the things that we put into play is what's call a trip ticket system. And that is a way for us finally to actually get effort reports from individual fisherman. Up to this date we've only been able to get that information from the fish houses themselves and that type of thing.

So, as we put this system in and we gather that information, we will be able to accumulate data on an individual license holder and how much they fish or don't fish. And that will give us a basis for saying how active you are and actually developing a system of priorities, and funding it as to how much more we would be willing to pay for a particular license.

The only fly in that ointment is of course that you have to be careful of them, which confounds things at this point, is those licenses are transferrable. So you don't want to get into a situation where you have someone who's selling their license for a high fee, and then going and buying a low ‑‑ you know, that type, because they are transferrable.

So that's an issue we'll always have to deal with or have to go through some legislative work with, perhaps to address before you can be very effective. We'll get the information together to do it.

MR. COOK: Doc, as I recall one of the ‑‑ again some history here for these Commissioners ‑‑ the stated goal in buy-back was to get that number something below 400. Am I remembering it right?

DR. MCKINNEY: That was one goal that was set during the legislative session of our group that was dealing with that. Our goal has always been to get the effort down into something like 70 or something like that.

We look at that effort as something that would be sustainable that would still supply the bait shrimp that you need for the recreational industry. And you've got to balance that off. But clearly if it's not there ‑‑ now it's heading there.

Of course our concern is that we somehow make sure that what we call that latent capacity is taken off the table. That inactive group, we would like to get them off, so that if conditions ever turned around, it didn't come back up.

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Well, couldn't you take care of that problem of not getting the reduced impact? The whole idea of buying active licenses is to make sure that the money being spent is being spent to remove an impact on the back.

What you're saying is, somebody can go buy an inactive license to replace that, and you've not really reduced the impact if the other one was inactive. And it seems to me ‑‑ and I know Commissioner Ramos and I have discussed this before ‑‑ that the way to handle that is to deal with the renewal process of the inactive license. Correct?

DR. MCKINNEY: We don't have that ability. That's a statutory issue. You'd have to go to the Legislature. I think there's a point though that you come at when we have the data and we can actually go to it ‑‑ and the Legislature is very concerned, and you understand that.

When someone has a license, and they're a shrimper and that's their business, the Legislature is very reluctant to go in and just take that person's business away just to take it away. But if you go to the Legislature after certain point with data that shows, this license hasn't been used. It's just being held.

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: It asserts it.

MR. MCKINNEY: It makes that case. So I think you have a much better case and say, Look, we're not trying to deal with those people that are trying to make a living. There's a group of licenses here that are inactive, and we need to get them out of that market and move forward.

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Well, one way to maybe deal with that that I'd like you to consider, that has been successful in offshore with transferrable quotas in other fisheries, is to cap ‑‑ I know we're not granting any licenses.

DR. MCKINNEY: That's correct.

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: But theoretically we could. Correct?

DR. MCKINNEY: We have. We've capped the number of licenses. We do not issue any. Whatever licenses we have now are steadily shrinking. About 45 percent of them are now gone. We've cut them in half.

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Then if we'd capped on that side. But then the loophole still is you can hold an inactive license for speculative purposes, then if we eliminate that by requiring use for renewal ‑‑ I wish I had Montgomery here, my University of Chicago economist ‑‑ doesn't that increase the value of the active license?

DR. MCKINNEY: Yes, sir.

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: So, I would think that the community of active commercial fishermen would want the value of their license to be greater.

COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Well, in line with that the way I approach it is if you have a license, but it's inactive, you have effectually abandoned the permit. Correct.

So, to me it would make sense either legislatively or otherwise that those inactive licenses be considered to be abandoned, to where they automatically fall out of the system, and you don't impact those that have an active license.

Then our true focus should be with the active licenses. And I agree with Joe, we shouldn't let people just sit on licenses as an investment. The whole purpose of the license is to use it. To the extent that you're not using it, I would argue that you have effectively abandoned it.

COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Do I understand, Doc, that the licenses are perpetual?

DR. MCKINNEY: As long as you come in and buy another one within a year.

COMMISSIONER HOLMES: They're automatically renewable.

DR. MCKINNEY: No, they're not.

COMMISSIONER HOLMES: You have to renew ‑‑

DR. MCKINNEY: All you do is come in and sign and get it.

COMMISSIONER HOLMES: And is the condition on which it's renewed legislatively mandated? Or can we condition that ‑‑

DR. MCKINNEY: Only that they can. Because anything that would say that they couldn't get their licenses other than just coming in. If they had one in the past they're eligible to buy another one. That's the basic ‑‑

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Don't they have to be in compliance with Coast Guard regulations [inaudible]?

MR. MCKINNEY: Absolutely, rules and those types of things.

COMMISSIONER PARKER: Are their boats inspected?

MR. COOK: No. Not as a requirement.

COMMISSIONER HOLMES: The license is to the individual, not to the boat.

DR. MCKINNEY: Not to the boater, to the individual, which is one of the problems.

MR. COOK: An interesting topic, gentlemen. It's one of importance. What's driving this thing ‑‑ I mean, there's still 800-some-odd folks out there that buy licenses. Fifty-seven of them went fishing on opening day.

$3 fuel and the price of shrimp is driving this thing so much more than we ever thought it would. Times have changed. And that's kind of where we wanted ‑‑

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: That could change with shrimp tariffs, which they've gone and asked for.

MR. COOK: So we're going to be looking at all this ‑‑

COMMISSIONER BROWN: Is this an item we could put on the agenda maybe next meeting as far as strategy [inaudible].

DR. MCKINNEY: Sir, it is on the agenda ‑‑ not on it now, but we do plan to expand on this and give you some opportunity to ‑‑

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: And the money we use for the buy-back comes from the saltwater ‑‑

DR. MCKINNEY: Two sources: the $3 surcharge that you all have continued. And a percentage of those commercial licenses that we sell also goes to buy-back.

COMMISSIONER PARKER: Mr. Chairman, would an approach to the Legislature be ‑‑ right now we're not offering any new licenses. Correct?

DR. MCKINNEY: All of our commercial licenses in all aspects of commercial fisheries is on a basically limited entry per the country.

COMMISSIONER PARKER: To protect those people who might want to buy a new license ‑‑ to protect them from the black market of buying from someone who has a license ‑‑ think the Legislature would want to protect that person from a black market pressure.

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I'm not sure where the black market is. It's cap and trade. If it's a limited entry then you're getting value to the existing licenses. And they can sell or transfer that license to us, to the CCA Foundation, to whoever they want to.

COMMISSIONER PARKER: They can't transfer to another person?

DR. MCKINNEY: Yes, they can at whatever they can sell it.

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Well, philosophically I don't have a problem with that, because then that means that most efficient operator is going to pay the highest price to an inefficient operator.

COMMISSIONER PARKER: With these fuel prices and the shrimp prices, that license isn't worth very much in a transfer.

MR. COOK: There's not a whole lot of people out there beating people's door down to buy this.

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Yes. We're the best buy. We're the best market at $7,800.

COMMISSIONER RAMOS: But to the extent that we have a jurisdiction to set conditions upon which we can renew a license, we could make it a condition of renewal, that in fact there has been historical usage of that.

And that eliminates the person that's just buying them for purposes of having an inventory of licenses for the future. And it seems to me that was not the purpose to acquire the license. The purpose was to use it.

To me it would be very reasonable to make it a condition of renewal, that there has been a historical use of that license.

MR. COOK: That would require some statutory legislation.

COMMISSIONER HOLMES: How many licenses are we buying back every year?

DR. MCKINNEY: This 17th round was our record of about 100. It's usually 50 to 70, something like that.

COMMISSIONER HOLMES: To what extent is there any trading of the licenses that we know of that does not involve Parks and Wildlife?

DR. MCKINNEY: There is some. There is no doubt, because we do get changes in applications. It does happen. I can't tell you exactly. I can probably get some information for you. In the brief that we do in August, I'll try to do that. I'll put that down to get you some information. Off the top of my head I can't.

COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Because I've got to believe that we are the buyer. For $7,800 I can't imagine somebody ‑‑

DR. MCKINNEY: You'll have some people in trading. The licenses are set by boat size. And there's some trading up and down of people getting different sizes of boats in trade. So there's some of that going on. We'll brief you on that.

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: We are the buyer. I think what's important here is to remember is that we're paying for it with the dollars of the recreational angler who's the beneficiary which makes a lot of sense. Okay. I know we're going to get another update on that.

Thanks, Larry.

Item two, Coordination with Fish and Game Agencies. Commissioner Parker and Scott Boruff.

MR. BORUFF: Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. Once again for the record my name is Scott Boruff, Deputy Executive Director of Operations. It's my pleasure today to introduce Commissioner John Parker, who's going to brief you gentlemen on a meeting he attended in Arkansas back in late April.

A multi-state Commission meeting where commissioners from, I believe, seven states came together and discussed common issues relative to conservation. With that I'll hand it over to Mr. Parker.

COMMISSIONER PARKER: Thank you, Scott.

First off I want to thank one person that has done a bang-up job on this presentation. And that's Marian Edwards. She is a whiz at putting one of these things together. She and I worked most of the day yesterday.

She's a whiz on that computer. I mean, she switched things around and did it so fast, it made my head swim. I have several items. One copied item for you to keep and several items to pass around and look at them, just to give you an idea of the generosity of the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation who sponsored this event.

Okay. The picture that you see here is all of the attendees from the various states. Louisiana didn't show and didn't call in as to why. Mississippi had a commission meeting and they could not attend. But attending were Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas with myself.

I want to tell my fellow commissioners that you missed one heck of a good party and meeting. One of the books that Ned is going to be passing around to you has a lot of pictures in it taken down in the southeast duck country of Arkansas.

Just a little side note ‑‑ those pictures depicted in there were taken by a fellow by the name of Ed Queeny who was a bombardier on a B-24 during World War II. And he took those pictures with a camera that came out of a B-24 ‑‑ incredible waterfowl pictures.

And every duck you see in there is a mallard. Then he and Ted Bishop conspired and produced one of the first coffee table books. And it was produced for the benefit of Ducks, Unlimited, in 1948. A little side story.

Anyhow it was a great meeting. And I put together this report. And I want you to read this very carefully. This is one thing that I added. This report is not being presented to criticize any facet program or staff of TPWD, because TPWD has established many programs that other states are now copying.

I'm going to present to you four ideas that I gleaned from this meeting. The most important one in my opinion was the Interscholastic Clay Target Shooting Program that Tennessee started.

The others ‑‑ the cost-saving relationship with the USDA between Missouri/Oklahoma and the USDA in RCS Program; the elk-hunting programs of Oklahoma and Arkansas and Tennessee. And this one, we didn't how to title it, so we just titled it "Trout Stocking in Arkansas."

But there were some other ideas that other states talked about, and we'll get to those in a moment. First of all with the Scholastic Clay Target-Shooting Program in Tennessee it was started after the tragic shooting incident in Jonesboro, Arkansas, which is in eastern Arkansas close to Tennessee.

And the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency commissioners saw an opportunity to counteract and possibly make something good out of something bad. The commissioners sat down and brainstormed about what they could do to prevent such a tragedy from happening in Tennessee.

Their first thought was of the 4-H Shooting Sports Program ‑‑ and we have that in Texas ‑‑ and how it could be taken to the next level in the context of education. They decided what public school children need is to completely understand sporting guns and their uses.

This was the whole reason for establishing this program in the Tennessee school system. And this Clay Target Shooting Program is now a UIL scholastic program with the Tennessee Public School Agency, like our Texas Education Agency.

In 2004 the State of Tennessee and Tennessee Wildlife Foundation got involved. As you can see the next year the number of shooters went up. Tennessee's Wildlife Resources Agency put in $120,000 into the program in 2004.

They put in $100,000 in '05 and $250,000 in '06. Most of this money has been used to start shooting facilities and build trap fields. Some funds went into buying clays for start-up teams, when they were weaned off the support.

I have a short four-minute video that explains their program. And I want you to notice that ‑‑ we'll call him the star young man of this program. If he was in this room today, he would be reading my lips.

He is totally hearing impaired. And also I want to add here that next year in '07 the Amateur Trap Association in Vandalia, Ohio, will include a division for UIL interscholastic competition for high school students in their great American trap shooting national championships. Okay, roll that.

(Video played.)

COMMISSIONER PARKER: Okay. Out of 98 counties you can see here, 60 percent participated in the program, 150 separate schools. Thirty percent of the teams are 4-H teams. Volunteers are key to the success, and regional directors are responsible for different regions.

Requiring each shooter to be Hunter Ed certified builds a new outdoor recruiting pool, as evidenced by the poll of Tennessee shooters. Of those who previously never bought a license ‑‑ get this now ‑‑ there are 1,700 hundred kids in the program this year after four years.

They went from 16 to 1,700. Of the 1,700, 85 percent of those children had never bought a hunting license before in their life. Today 85 percent of those children are hunting license buyers. Sixty percent of their parents had never bought licenses, and now their parents are buying hunting licenses.

It's an in-school UIL program. It's for the kids that can't play football or basketball or be cheerleaders or whatever. But they can hold a shotgun and participate ‑‑ junior high and high school. It's a sport for anybody, student athletes with opportunities for college scholarships.

And here we are in Texas. And what brought this home to me ‑‑ down in San Antonio we've got the largest clay target shooting facility in the world. Okay. The next idea that I gleaned was a program that the State of Missouri started first, and then Oklahoma is coming into it now.

Ninety-three percent of the state is privately owned. It's just like Texas. The MDC focuses on restoration of critical habitats and landscapes on private land, our Land Steward Program that's coming tonight.

This is a worthwhile project. That the close-working cost-saving relationship between Missouri and Oklahoma Natural Resource Agencies with the USDA is ‑‑ this is a new word; this is from East Texas ‑‑ with USDA in officing their wildlife biologists in the same offices with the NRCS.

In other words they worked a deal in Missouri where they would put a wildlife biologist habitat manager in the same office as the NRCS. And now the NRCS is paying part of that person's salary. The NRCS are paying for the office space, a desk, a chair, file cabinets, a computer, a telephone.

Really when farmers, ranchers and new recreational landowners walk into the USDA office then they get the opportunity to meet one of their wildlife specialists at the same time. To me that's kind of like shooting fish in a barrel.

The partnership in Missouri began in 1981. The MDC biologist train NRCS field staff and service landowner requests. The NRCS has contributed $145 million to the MDC each year since the 2002 Farm Bill that was implemented, the funding to achieve fish, forest and wildlife objectives on private land.

Now then in Oklahoma they started a little bit later in 1998. But they're on board with the NRCS. Oklahoma's private land technicians review WHIP applications, conduct onsite visits, rank projects, provide technical guidance and develop management plans for the approved projects for the people who come into the NRCS office.

I understand that our staff has been working closely with Texas state conservationist, Dr. Larry Butler in Temple to develop and initiate a similar program in Texas. Our Farm Bill coordinator is Chuck Kowaleski. And he has been doggedly pursuing such an arrangement.

So far NRCS funds have not been available to allow this arrangement in Texas. But keep in mind that Texas has one position in one NRCS office in the entire state. And we have 254 counties. Missouri has 53 for 114 counties.

They do not put their people in the metropolitan NRCS offices. This program would give us one more tool to supplement and support our Land Stewardship Program and could possibly put it on the fast track.

Elk Restoration and Hunting Programs. There's some interesting ideas here. Elk rank just below deer and turkey in terms of big game hunter numbers. Elk licenses sold in the U.S. and Canada increased ‑‑ and this was a shocker to me ‑‑ from 500,000 in 1975 to 950,000 in 1995.

That's a doubling in 20 years. Of all of these projects that I'm going to talk about to you about the elk in these various states, there have been no occurrence of CWD in the sampled elk herds. Elk are also a popular part of wildlife watching.

We have birdwatching. We also have elk-watching. The 1990 study of Montana indicated that wildlife viewing annually contributed more than $44 million to Montana's economy. Elk viewing is very popular in Montana, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Michigan and Pennsylvania are states, along with Arkansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee that have reintroduced elk to their former eastern U.S. range. Elk and white-tail deer are non-competitive ruminants. That is not an East Texas word. I got that from Marian Edwards.

Elk are grazers, and deer are browsers. The Arkansas elk restoration originally occurred in Arkansas ‑‑ eastern elk originally occurred in Arkansas and eastern U.S. There are no records of eastern elk in Arkansas beyond 1840.

An attempt was made in the Ozark region in the 1930s, but that failed. The second restoration attempt in the Ozarks in the early 1980s was successful. 112 Rocky Mountain elk were stocked between 1981 and '85.

These elk were trapped in Colorado and Nebraska and transported to Arkansas in stock trailers. All the elk were stocked in Newton County near the Buffalo National River. The herd has increased in number and distribution.

The program relies heavily on habitat restoration and management of the herd. Harvested elk are sampled for diseases such as CWD, brucellosis ‑‑ that's not an East Texas word either ‑‑ disease. No evidence on CWD or other disease problems in this herd thus far.

And there's a graph there that shows the steady climb ‑‑ with a little dip in there ‑‑ of the elk population by cow and calf. I realize it might be hard to read. The point is that the numbers are definitely going up. The next slide that we're going to show is the mortalities of the elk herd in Arkansas ‑‑ again, no evidence of CWD.

Unfortunately the biggest problem they have are the poachers. The Arkansas elk harvest. 188 elk have been harvested in Arkansas since 1988. This includes 82 antlered bulls and 106 cows. The total harvest in 2005 decreased primarily due to a decreased harvest in private land hunting zone.

Both of the hunts in 2005 went well, with few problems encountered by the Commission. Comments from hunters were positive. And they were very appreciative of the opportunity to hunt elk in Arkansas.

Now then to the Oklahoma program. An elk permit is available through public hunt drawing to hunt in the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge. The number of bull and cow permits issued each year is dependent on the population levels.

Due to high demand for these hunts, individuals may be drawn only once during their lifetime. Then the next shows that they have done a steady process of testing for disease, and none have tested positive.

Oklahoma elk hunting on private lands. Deer and elk are monitored for CWD again. Even on the private lands mandatory checking of deer offers sufficient means of collecting samples statewide. The deer processors taking in the elk are very cooperative in providing specimens for testing.

Over 5,500 free-ranging elk and deer have been tested, and here again, none positive. Now then Tennessee has just started their Elk Restoration Program. The last reported elk in Tennessee was in 1865.

They started by releasing elk from the Elk Island National Park in Alberta, Canada, which is one of the most famous parks for taking elk to be transplanted in other areas. Tennessee may also consider obtaining elk from Utah or the elk and bison enclosure at land between the lakes in Minnesota.

It is also hoped that some mature cows will probably be pregnant, which will ultimately augment the numbers of the animals released, causing the Tennessee elk population to grow. Going to the next slide ‑‑ one thing that I do want to point out, the Restoration Zone is 670,000 acres in Tennessee.

Mostly it's in eastern Tennessee in the Smoky Mountains. The potential to crop damage and property damage to row crops ‑‑ elk that wander outside the zone, they are captured or destroyed. Restoration Zone has few farms but does contain suitable habitat to support a large herd.

They expect the population of elk to go from 400 to 1,400 in 16 years. All elk released in Tennessee and Arkansas and Oklahoma are fitted with radio collars to trap movements. When patterns of herd movements are established, the public is notified for viewing areas.

Arkansas and Oklahoma give the first elk license each year to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation to be auctioned. These funds support the restoration efforts. Tennessee plans to do the same thing with their first season in 2007.

The fourth idea is that of Arkansas's trout-stocking program in the streams and rivers and what it has done to that country's economic situation for landowners, where the rivers and streams either run through their property or border their property.

Arkansas saw a need to expand its trout-stocking program to support private landowners, where streams and rivers run through or border their property. This has resulted in a major increase of resort fishing industry along these streams and rivers.

Our Inland Fisheries Division does a wonderful job of stocking trout in the winter here in Texas. But they're stocked only in the cold months. When the warm months come then they go away.

Perhaps we could look at heavily stocking certain areas of our rivers and streams with larger-sized catfish, crappie, bass and brim, thus creating an opportunity for entry-level anglers and a resource industry for the landowners on each side of the streams and river. Quite probably, maybe a practical and more definitive approach would be for several targeted areas for local surveys of private landowners along those streams and rivers here in Texas to find out if those owners would be interested in trying to establish a fishing industry along the banks of their rivers on their private lands.

And with that, that is the end of my presentation. And I'll tell you for sure, if they invite me back up there ‑‑ we stayed at the Gaston Lodge there right below Bull Shoals Dam. It's a magnificent thing.

I did not go on the fishing trip. But those guys were catching brown trout this long. The opening picture of everybody standing there on the bank was at another resort. They cooked the fish they caught over an open fire there on the bank.

We had beautiful blackberry cobbler with ice cream and all the trimmings in between. It was a magnificent trip. And I would certainly encourage, if they do it again next year, for some of you to go.

Thank you. Thank you, Marian.

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, John. It looks like you're having all the fun, John.

COMMISSIONER PARKER: It was a fun trip.

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: We're going to send you to public meeting ‑‑ we'll think of something ‑‑ to balance that out. Managed Lands Deer Permit. Okay. Thanks very much, John. Appreciate that, and I appreciate you representing the Commission at that meeting.

Next up, item three, Migratory Game Bird Proclamation. Vernon Bevill.

MR. BEVILL: Mr. Chairman, members of the Commission. My name is Vernon Bevill. I am the Program Director for Small Game and Habitat Assessment. And I'm here today to kind of give you an overview of what we see coming down the road in the months ahead for migratory bird seasons and regulations for 2006, 2007.

The process got underway pretty significantly during our March meeting of the Central Flyaway Council and all four of the Flyaway councils meet. And our recommendations have been passed on to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

In the month of June we will have the early season regulation meeting with Fish and Wildlife Service to formalize early season proposals across the country. We have several significant changes. We're looking at all of our significant changes, our late season.

Other than that we're looking at pretty much a standard calendar shift and that sort of thing. A lot of the work being done to help us finalize the regulation process is taking place now with breeding population surveys and habitat surveys, both for dove across the country and for waterfowl in our prairie, pothole regions north of us.

We have three significant proposals for late season regulations that I'll talk about in more detail a little later in this presentation. But one includes a Hunter's Choice of options, which I briefly discussed with you at a previous meeting.

We're potentially thinking about the repeal of the Light Goose Conservation order. And we potentially may get a one-bird increase in the Canada goose limit in the Wet Goose Zone. For dove we don't anticipate any changes over last year other than calendar shift.

White-wing season, the same thing. You will recall that we had that increase in the size of the special White-wing Zone southwest of San Antonio last year. That went very well. The aggregate bag is 12 birds, no more than four mourning doves or two white-tipped doves in that aggregate bag during the special white-wing season.

And we don't anticipate any change the.

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Before you leave that, what's it going to take for us to get over the 37? I know that was the bridge too far last time.

MR. BEVILL: Probably going to take an act of Congress for that.

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: An act of Congress, don't push your luck, is that what you're telling me?

MR. BEVILL: It would take significant resources to do the population analysis work that would need to be done. And that is a matter of prioritizing budgets to do so, and whether or not that is a high enough priority in the grand scheme of things that the gain is worth the effort.

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Is that a mourning dove nesting issue?

MR. BEVILL: It's a mourning dove nesting issue. We've had mourning dove nesting work done in this state many years ago. And the nesting results indicated a fairly significant portion of our birds fledge after September 1. That's why that's delayed.

We don't know for sure what our opportunities will be for teal. But if it's a nine-day season, it would be the 16th through the 24th. And a 16-day season would be the 9th through the 24th. We take the last full weekend in September, whether it's a nine-day or a 16-day season.

It's either two weekends or three weekends. These are the calendar shift proposals for the other early season species. We have three Waterfowl Zones or Duck Zones in the State of Texas. We don't anticipate a change from the liberal package. But we don't know that for sure at this point in time.

Habitat conditions in prairie pothole country, it seemed to be better this year than they were last year. So we hope that that, combined with the breeding population survey, will help us to another liberal package.

But that won't be determined for another month or so yet. And under the liberal package we've been operating from, we have a six-bird bag with some species restrictions within that six-bird bag. Last year you will recall that to protect black ducks, mottled ducks and Mexican ducks we went to a one dusky duck aggregate bag limit to help solve that problem.

I'm going to talk to you a little bit about that and canvasbacks and pintail, which are into that 39-day restrictive season as part of this Hunter's Choice bag.

The Central Flyaway has been working with the Fish and Wildlife Service for several years to resolve a regulatory complex issue, where we've got these restricted seasons within seasons ‑‑ closed seasons, like we have experienced for canvasback and that sort of thing.

And we've come up with a game plan that we call Hunter's Choice. And that's to take the Mallard hen and put the Mallard hen in with pintails and canvasback and dusky ducks. And the Mallard hen is a buffer, so that we can hunt season long these species.

But when a hunter takes one of that species combination, his day is over. But he's not then restricted to remember when did that 39-day season start. So we think that's an opportunity. And if we get the Hunter's Choice option approved within the Central Flyaway, we are in a mandatory scenario to take Hunter's Choice.

The one thing it does do is reduces the overall bag from six to five in the liberal package. And it combines those species, as I said, in that aggregate one-bird bag.

COMMISSIONER PARKER: What is dusky duck?

MR. BEVILL: It's a definition we came up with last year to protect mottled ducks, which are under increasing scrutiny for concerns for their breeding population across the West Gulf coastal region.

We have a number of people who were taking multiple ducks and trying to say they're either mottled ducks or Mexican ducks or light ducks. And the dusky duck helps us buffer against an over-harvest of mottled ducks primarily.

COMMISSIONER PARKER: So a dusky duck is either one of the three.

MR. BEVILL: A dusky duck is a brown duck in that overall Mallard genus group. The Western Goose Zone, the Eastern Goose Zone, we basically anticipate calendar shift. I would note that under the Western Goose Zone bag limit, we are hopeful of gaining a fourth bird, Canada goose in the bag.

Right now we're dealing with a four-bird bag, but it's limited to three Canada geese. We proposed this. And the population levels are sufficient to sustain that. Hopefully the Service will approve it.

Basically calendar shift for the Eastern Goose Zone this year. Recently the Fish and Wildlife Service had a scoping meeting in Rosenberg, where they're looking at waterfowl issues for an upcoming evaluation of the EIS on hunting of migratory birds.

There was some discussion at that meeting about among hunters that the Light Goose conservation season had lost popularity and concern that our populations on the coastal regions of Texas had declined some, probably as a result of the effort we made to reduce that population.

And so there was some noise level there that the Light Goose conservation season is not effective, and perhaps we should disband it for the period ahead. So in order to get some good feedback from our goose-hunting public, we would like to go out with a proposal to cancel that Light Goose Conservation Order and see if that is in fact the preponderance of the noise level that is out there among our goose-hunting population.

Then we can come back to you in August with a formal recommendation to either keep it or drop it. And if we drop it, then we expand a few opportunities for other species.

COMMISSIONER PARKER: You can't work a trade with the Feds on that?

MR. BEVILL: No, in law. We can either have it or not have it.

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Go back to that other slide. Was that the exposure up on the breeding grounds?

MR. BEVILL: I will tell you that the Light Goose numbers are still just about as high as they've ever been.

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: The Conservation Order has not been successful in reducing the numbers and thereby improving the habitat.

MR. BEVILL: We think they've reduced the numbers that we were trying to reduce in Texas, because our breeding population survey on the coast has declined from the all-time highs of the '90s.

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: The objective is to try and serve that habitat that you see there on the right that's up in the northwest territories.

MR. BEVILL: The adaptability of the snow goose has been something that we have been struggling with. And one of the reasons the numbers are still high is that they're wintering in new areas that they didn't winter in before, and they're breeding in new areas they didn't breed in before.

But they are a menace to a number of species. But at the same time the tools that have been available to us in Texas are probably not the tools we need to get the job done.

Thank you, sir. So anyway we would like to go out and make this proposal a formal proposal, so that we can get the feedback and know what we need to do to recommend to you all in August when you have that time to make that decision.

The sandhill crane proposal is basically the same as last year. If we don't go with the Light Goose conservation season, we actually get to extend the back end of the sandhill crane season in Zone A and B a little bit. So we gain a few days for sandhill crane hunting.

And that covers my presentation. I'll be glad if I can talk to answer any questions.

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I'll make this as easy as I can. There's a hunter opportunity benefit to doing away with the Light Goose Conservation Order. That is what, essentially?

MR. BEVILL: Well, we don't really think that there will be a falloff in hunting opportunity per se or a falloff in harvest, because the popularity based on our surveys. We've been doing an annual survey post-conservation order.

And the number of participants have steadily declined since the beginning of it every few years. And we do gain a little bit on the sandhill crane season.

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any other questions for Vernon?

(No response.)

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Vernon.

No action required there. Next up item number 4, proposed amendments to the harmful or potentially harmful exotic fish, shell fish and aquatic plants regulations. Joedy.

MR. GRAY: Chairman, Committee members. My name is Joedy Gray, and I'm a staff support specialist with Inland Fisheries. The Commission has established rules to regulate the importation, possession, sale and placing in the water of this state any harmful or potentially harmful exotic fish, shellfish or aquatic plant.

Staff is proposing amendments to these rules which will provide additional protection to our native aquatic species and provide consistency and clarification for certain provisions of the rules. Staff is proposing adding two exotic Chinese carp to the prohibited fishing list.

These carp have the potential to cause negative ecological impacts if accidently released in the state waters. Round gobies have invaded the Great Lakes, causing ecological damage to native fish species.

Therefore staff proposes adding Round gobies to our prohibited fish list. Chinese perches have been added because of their cold tolerance and potential to compete with our native bass. Staff proposes prohibiting all species of temperate basses except striped bass, white bass, yellow bass and hybrids between the proved species.

Staff is proposing the following changes to the prohibited shellfish list. The prohibition on crayfish has been expanded to include all Southern Hemisphere crayfishes. Some species of Australian crayfishes would represent a major ecological threat if released in Texas.

Therefore it is prudent to restrict them now before they become prevalent in that aquaculture or pet industries. Additionally, the prohibition on applesnails and giant ramshorn snails has been expanded to include all but one species, which is currently popular in the pet industry.

To maintain consistency with the USDA and the Texas Department of Agriculture regulations, eight species of plants have been added to our prohibited plant list. Finally, water spinach has been added to the list of exotic species that are permitted to culture in Texas.

Water spinach has been cultured for over 20 years in the Houston area. Extensive habitat surveys by staff biologists revealed no evidence of water spinach in public waters. Therefore staff recommends that current culture facilities be allowed to continue operating under a permit from the Department.

Staff first seeks approval to publish these proposed amendments in the Texas Register for public comment. In addition, staff would like to mention a potential future proposal involving aquaculture. Aquaculture for fish farmers importing, culturing and selling exotic fish, shellfish or aquatic plants currently abide by our prohibited list.

However, if an exotic species is not on our prohibited list, it can legally be cultured without a permit from the Department. Fish farmers currently check first with the Department when they are considering a new species, but they are not required to do so by law.

Staff will be examining the possibility of having a non-prohibited list or list of Department-approved species for aquaculture. This would require fish farmers to provide the Department with a risk analysis first when applying to culture a new exotic species.

Staff feels this is necessary due to recent requests from fish farmers for exotic marine fish and plant species and the high probability of offshore aquaculture in Texas. Over the next few months staff will be meeting with representatives of the aquaculture industry to obtain their input into this process.

Our goal is to come back to you in the near future with a proposal for new rules addressing this issue. I'll take any questions.

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any questions for Joedy?

COMMISSIONER RAMOS: I have a dumb question. What's a temperate bass?

MR. GRAY: Striped bass, white bass and yellow bass and any hybrids between those two.

COMMISSIONER RAMOS: My only concern is educating the public to be able to know the difference between these species. But that's part of the education process, I guess.

MR. GRAY: We have posters and booklets on identification of native species in Texas. And those fish are evident in those.

COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Which temperate bass were prohibited then, because you excepted white bass, striped bass?

MR. GRAY: Any bass in that family, say like white perch. Something that's not native to Texas would be prohibited.

(Pause.)

COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Do the catfish [inaudible] in there?

MR. GRAY: No.

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any other questions for Joedy?

(No response.)

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Joedy. I will authorize staff to publish in the Texas Register for the required public comment period. Item five, status of flounder. Larry McKinney.

DR. MCKINNEY: Mr. Chairman and members. For the record I'm Larry McKinney, Director of Coastal Fisheries. At your last meeting when we were giving you a briefing on the status of the overall picture of the coast, a couple of questions came up about the flounder and perhaps status of game fish and that type of thing.

So we thought it would be a good opportunity to try to give you some background and the status of that fishery and where we are. So I'll do that. To start with, there are some aspects of the biology of the flounder and its life history that have some management implications.

So I thought I would touch on those just briefly. The southern flounder is the largest ‑‑ as it says here ‑‑ of the 23 flatfish that occur in Texas. This species is distributed from South Carolina down to the upper part of Mexico.

But the main part of the population is located in or around Texas, even though the world record was taken in Nassau Sound ‑‑ 20 pounds, nine ounces in 1983. In Texas that's a good-sized flounder. It's getting into some other category altogether. It's huge.

The Texas record is 13 pounds, 28 inches, taken in Sabine Lake in 1976. The basic biology that has effect on implication to females they grow faster; they live longer and they get bigger, which is about the sum of the deal.

To give you a little more detail here. Females for example, they can live about seven years. They reach 10 inches in the first year, then the next year, 14, 17 and so on, and of course can reach up to about 20, 28 inches.

Males on the other hand, they live about four years. They reach 8 inches in their first year, can go up to 14. But really they seldom exceed 12 inches. The point being is that our fishery, commercial and recreational then of course is really heavily prosecuted on that female, because the males really don't get up to that 14-inch measurement.

So we hit the females really hard just by necessity. So that is an issue we have to contend with when we're dealing with flounders. The life cycle also has some implications for management as viability. They are a mirror image of brown shrimp.

They follow each other almost directly. The adult flounder move out offshore in the fall in the big flounder runs, which of course everyone's familiar with and certainly take advantage of. They go out offshore. They return back in the spring.

Now not many people think about it, we do have a spring flounder run. It's just that it's spread out over a longer period of time. That fall run of course is queued to temperature change. Northers and things come through that push them out.

The spring, it's just a broader time ‑‑ but they do come back in. Of course they spawn out there. It takes two or three males to work with one female to make sure they spawn. The larger drift back into those bays, steadily move into the bays right along with the shrimp.

They follow those shrimp as they move up there, because the young flounder feed on shrimp. They like the same bottoms. They're all locked in. When they start to get a little bit larger they do separate out.

The bigger flounder move up into different areas, and they change over from primarily shrimp feeders to mollusks, that type of thing. That life cycle of course as you can imagine has a tremendous impact on its mortality, being associated with those shrimp and shrimping.

There's also an abundance of flounder ‑‑ this is our records here. Of course we've been concerned about them for some time. We've seen a nice change in the trend population since the mid-90's, although this last year a little bit of a down tick that has us concerned a bit.

I was hoping not to see something like that. The one thing that we're seeing was that we have fewer flounder. They're bigger. We're seeing bigger flounder, but fewer, which has some recruitment issues we're going to look at.

So, we're a little concerned. We would prefer not to have hit that dip. But they do change. We're going to watch them really closely. But that's one of the reasons we are concerned about them. So let's talk a little bit about fishery mortalities.

First take a look at our recreational mortality. Of course we have a bag limit of ten. In your last meeting you made that bag and retention the same, which is helpful. Minimum length 14 inches. Our recreational anglers take about 110,000 fish, about 200,000 pounds annually.

On the commercial side they have a bag limit of 60, the same length limit. They take about 85,000 fish, 160,000 pounds. They are our most valuable finfish resource. Right now they're selling about $2.50 a pound.

And that price will vary with the season, as you might expect. But they are a valuable commodity and an important part of our restaurant trade. It's interesting how the landing's distribute out. For example the bulk of our commercial landings, 51 percent out of Aransas Bay and 21 percent out of San Antonio Bay, it's a mid-coast fishery from a commercial perspective.

When you look recreationally it's mostly on the upper coast where 56 percent of our recreational take is in Galveston and 16 percent in Sabine Lake. So it's a little bit of shift there. It's probably more than likely related to the fact that the bulk of our remaining commercial fin fisherman are in the lower coast.

About 80 percent of our commercial they're after black drum ‑‑ that's the main thing, there's some flounder they're all located down south. So it probably makes some sense that that's where they pursue the commercial, too. But there may be some other reasons that I'm just not aware of.

The 800-pound gorilla and the mortality issue here with the flounder is not with the recreational, although that accounts for 10 percent and commercial, 8 percent. Primarily it's bycatch of the shrimp industry.

Eighty-two percent of the mortality comes directly from bycatch of shrimping. So the basic thrust is if you're going to do something to restore the population of the flounder, then that's your target where you can be most effect.

And we have been doing that of course. We started in '95. We talked about a little bit earlier this morning or this afternoon about the shrimp license buy-back. Of course that's been progressing as we talked about.

In 2000 the Commission you all adopted a series of regulations for the shrimping that really had a great impact. It creates some new nursery areas. Basically it means that there are larger areas within the bays that are not subject to shrimping.

So that certainly gave some relief to not only shrimp, but the flounder that are associated with them. The implementation of the bycatch reduction devices ‑‑ a big issue there to help bypass some of the bigger shrimp. That was important as well.

Of course the commercial finfish buy-back program that started in 2000, we've been proceeding with that and buying back those licenses as well. I think we purchased around 140, 150 since that date and moving along.

COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Out of how many?

DR. MCKINNEY: I knew you were going to ask that. Out of 549 licenses we bought 143, 26 percent. So it has had an impact, you see here in our sampling of the bay. And the mortality rates from trawler-caught flounder has gone down, and that's a plus.

Another aspect that we're working on as far as ‑‑ since we know what the mortality is, what are trying to do or what are doing in regards to helping that population rebound or stabilize. Well, one of the areas is in our hatchery system.

I don't know if Dr. Vega's here. Yes. Robert Vega has the lead in this which I really appreciate. He's been working very closely with UTMSI, Dr. John Holt and others in looking at how we can deal with flounder in our hatcheries.

And they've had some success actually the first time this year. They've really been able to move this forward to the point where they've actually run flounder through the entire cycle, put them in ponds and take them out and release them.

Now this is a trial area. We're not talking industrial scale issues now. But this is a good trial. And it's been fun for me to watch. I'm sure it's been a lot of work for those guys. I think we talked at one of our meetings, for example ‑‑ there's some practical issues here.

Like if you look at the picture on the lower right when they release the fish. When we have those tanks ‑‑ maybe we talked about this ‑‑ in those tanks you have a big pipe and just flush the fish out. They all kind of [indiscernible] little round fish.

But flounder are not. They're flat. So what happens when they get into the current, they stick to the sides. As the guy said, we need to invent some kind of like fish spatulas to drive those fish out of those tanks.

So there's some practical issues of how to do it. But they are making progress. And this could be an important part of the recovery. So I appreciate the work that Robert is doing with his staff. She may be holding it way out, but that is still a pretty good size flounder by anybody's estimate. So one of the key questions that you all ask is what should we consider naming this designated game fish.

What does that do? Well, clearly one thing it does, it designates legal gear. It's hook and line only. So that's one thing it does from that perspective. And certainly it means they can't be used for bait, although I don't think that's a big issue, but that's certainly is one of the impacts.

One of the significant thrusts is it certainly would also redistribute that commercial catch to the recreational catch. About 12 or so percent of that fishery is in commercial. And this would move it over there.

Probably would have the biggest effect in that mid-coast area, because there's not much commercial activity up north that there is in the mid-coast. So that might have an impact there, giving those recreational anglers more.

It depends on what your goal is with designation of game fish. If your designation of the game fish is to try to help recover the species or go back to that number, in fact it probably will not, because the issue is the bycatch.

Now, if you have multiple goals there, you'd like to shift that. You think it's better for whatever purpose, economic or whatever ‑‑ just have a recreational fishery for it. Well, that's one aspect of it.

If you also want to try to use that to recover species to recover the species, you have to think about a couple of other things ‑‑ for example, how do you treat gigging. That's the big issue. Gigging ‑‑ trying to look up some information on it ‑‑ this is not your dad's Coleman lantern and sharp stick anymore.

These things are pretty sophisticated operations. I guarantee you, you go out to Aransas at night sometime, it looks like a little city floating around out there. And you wonder how any flounder can get by any of those folks. So they're pretty fished.

So that would be an issue because the gigging has certainly been a traditional aspect of the sport side of it. Do you make an exception, or do you not do that. We haven't done any survey work on it. And I was gathering up information, because I did run across a survey on the internet.

This was down in Corpus. Again this is not our work, and who knows how balanced it is. But I think intuitively it looks pretty good, as far as indicative of attitudes. Basically they ask folks what they felt. Should we name flounder as a game fish.

As you can see here that some of them said yes. Should you continue with gigging? It'd be okay ‑‑ 54 percent, 27 percent otherwise. So the point being is that if we consider that action you're going to have a lot of pros and cons amongst the petitioners whether we should do this or should not do this.

And that's something you have to take into consideration.

COMMISSIONER PARKER: Is commercial fishing of flounder, can they use a gig?

DR. MCKINNEY: That's what they use. There may be some others, but mostly it's a gigging activity. They may use these types of things they can use a pole and then go after them and they can carry 60 apiece, whoever's got the license. That's what they can carry.

COMMISSIONER PARKER: So they've got ten people in there. They can come back with 600.

DR. MCKINNEY: They have to have ten commercial fishing licenses. They have to have a commercial license. Each commercial fisherman may take 60 as their bag limit.

COMMISSIONER PARKER: Are there any numbers of how many fish the commercial fisherman are taking?

DR. MCKINNEY: 160,000 about. I think I showed that a little bit earlier. Let me flip back there and I'll get it for you ‑‑ 85,000, 160,000 pounds.

If we are to continue to allow gigging for example, if that was allowed as a recreational activity, what other recreationally-based management options would be available, because if you wanted to name it as a game fish, but still have some impact on the biology, if you could make a contribution, what other things could you do?

Well, clearly the standard issue of reduced bag or size limits, but it might be that the bag limit would be so restrictive it would be like going back to the duck-hunting days, when you could take one or two and you would do ‑‑ to have an impact.

So that's not necessarily one that I think would be effective. We would certainly look at it more closely. But it would have to be pretty severe in that perspective. The other option is not necessarily any more inviting and that is area or seasonal quotas.

Other states do use that for other species. This particular species would be ideal for that because of those flounder runs that happen in the fall. I bet Pete is back there, Col. Flores, is wincing. That's a tough issue you have to deal with. It would not be a very popular one.

But that's an option that you can look at. So there's some issues there to be considered. With that this was just a brief to kind of give you ‑‑ let you think about that and give you that type of background as we watch that population, we're certainly going to be watching it closely.

And we're certainly willing to discuss it further at any point. And if there's any questions I'd certainly be glad to try to answer those now.

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thanks, Larry.

Any other questions for Larry?

(No response.)

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: That briefing item requires no action. Next up is Mike Berger, pheasant proclamation.

MR. BERGER: Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman and Commissioners. For the record I'm Mike Berger, Wildlife Division Director. I'm here this afternoon to talk briefly about the change in the Panhandle pheasant bag limit.

A few years ago you'll recall we extended the pheasant season from 16 to 30 days in the Panhandle. And at that same time we reduced the bag limit from three roosters daily to two roosters daily. The pheasant populations are doing well in the Panhandle.

And there's really no reason to maintain a reduced daily bag limit. Our analysis of harvest data over the past years indicates that the long-term average harvest has remained essentially the same, regardless of whether we have a 16 or a 30-day season or two or three-bird daily bag limit.

So, at your last meeting you instructed us to put this out for public comment, we have. We have had one public comment, and it is fully in support of this proposal to expand the daily bag limit. So we will extend that to three cock pheasants daily and six in possession.

That concludes that. If you have any questions.

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any questions for Mike on that one? BIVINS: Thanks for taking care of that. I'll place this item on a Thursday Commission Meeting agenda for public comment and action.

Thank you, Mike.

Next up, item seven, proposed 2006-2007 oyster fishery proclamation, Bill. Bill's just glad the flounder was a brief item, that's all.

(No response.)

MR. ROBINSON: Yes, sir. I could see us getting into another long conversation there. Mr. Chairman, members of the Commission, for the record my name is Bill Robinson, Chief Fisheries Enforcement. At the August 25, 2005, Commission Meeting amendments were adopted that create a definition of sack for measuring oysters taken from Texas waters.

The second part of this action was intended to reduce the commercial daily bag limit for oysters to preserve and stabilize the economic value of oysters taken during the open season.

However the language published in the Texas Register only changed the amount of oysters that may be in possession on board a commercial oyster vessel and did not make it clear that 90 sacks was intended to be the daily limit as well.

The proposed amendment would correct that error and clarify that the daily bag limit for commercial oyster fisherman is 90 sacks, and the daily bag limit for recreational fisherman is two bushels, which is equal to two sacks.

This amendment would also change the recreational limit units from bushels to sacks to remove the possibility of confusion in the fishery that could result from using different units to measure the take.

Currently not more than 90 sacks of culled oysters may be on board a licensed commercial oyster boat. This proposal would clarify that the legal one-day limit is 90 sacks of culled oyster of legal size. This amendment would also clarify the recreational position limit and allow a person to take in one day or possess not more than two sacks of legal size oysters.

We did not receive any public comment when this was published in the Register. That concludes my presentation. Be glad to answer any questions you might have.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Why do you have the two terms, sack and bushel?

MR. ROBINSON: For many years we referred to oyster measurements as barrels of oysters or bushels of oysters, when the industry referred to harvest as sacks ‑‑ so many sacks per day or so many sacks on board.

When they sold them it would be so many sacks. We stayed with that bushel and box measurement for years. So we did some research on it and found out that a box of oysters weighs approximately 110 pounds. And that is equivalent to one sack.

So, we redefined the box of oysters to make it a sack. And that way the industry and us ‑‑ everybody combined ‑‑ measures those oyster as sacks. It makes it a whole lot simpler for everybody.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Thank you.

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thanks, Bill.

Any other questions for Bill?

(No response.)

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: No further questions I'll place that item on the Thursday Commission Meeting agenda for public comment and action.

Mike Berger, you're up for number eight, public lands proclamation.

MR. BERGER: Mr. Chairman and Commissioners. For the record I'm Mike Berger, Wildlife Division Director. And today I want to brief you on the proposed changes to regulations governing public hunting lands, candidate state parks for public hunts and establishing open season for public hunting lands for 2006/2007.

We briefed you on these public lands proclamation changes at the last meeting and put them out for comment. We propose to remove Aquilla Wildlife Management Area from the public hunting program.

The Corps of Engineers has declined to make it available for public hunting. We had two comments in favor of this and nine opposed from those who use the area and do not want to see us not have it. So I think that's understandable.

Earlier this year the state parks share of management of Matagorda Island was transferred to the Wildlife Division. So this area no longer functions as a state park. And we need to change the name to Matagorda Island Wildlife Management Area. There were no comments on that proposal.

Also we're removing regulations addressing recreational activities and camping from Section 65.192 and creating a new section that deals specifically with recreational activities on wildlife management areas. There were comments on both parts of that.

None in favor of the first part to remove that section ‑‑ four opposed. They didn't give a reason. But we suspect that they thought we were eliminating camping with that proposal, which in fact is not what happens.

The authority moves to this new section. In regard to the new section that would deal specifically with recreational activities, we had two in favor, eight opposed. The eight who were opposed generally wanted hunting to be the only activity that would be approved on wildlife management areas, rather than allowing hunters to camp or other people could use the areas for other purposes.

We're eliminating the waiver of fees for youth and disabled participation in events that are limited to youth or disabled persons or for the purposes of research, education or charity. The reason is that there are no application or permit fees for such events or activities other than hunting, and thus there is no need for waiver.

So we would eliminate that. There were no comments on that change. Now we move on to candidate state parks for public hunting this year. There are 42 candidate state parks proposed for hunting in the upcoming season, and they are in your booklet.

Of the 42 state parks proposed this year 40 were hunted last year; one you've already just heard about. We changed Matagorda Island from a state park to a wildlife management area. So it no longer is there.

Lake Houston is in the process of a land transfer, so it's removed. Choke Canyon you heard about earlier from Walt Dabney. Is not going to hold hunts this year due to staff time and the high water that was there.

Martin Dies, Jr., is still suffering from Hurricane Rita damage and is not available this year. However we do have two new state parks that will be hunted. That's Abilene State Park and Copper Breaks State Park.

Overall the drawn public hunt positions this year are up 63 positions from last year. And the youth positions this year are up 244 permits from last year, due to the creation of two new youth categories for youth-managed deer hunts.

COMMISSIONER PARKER: Abilene State Park is new and Copper Breaks.

MR. BERGER: Copper Breaks and Abilene.

COMMISSIONER PARKER: Only just two.

MR. BERGER: The two new ones this year. And in order to conduct public hunts on public hunting lands the Commission is required to establish an open season for hunting on public lands each year. And this season would be from September 1, 2006, to August 31, 2007.

And that will be in the recommendation that will come to you tomorrow. I'll be happy to answer any questions.

COMMISSIONER HOLMES: You added some exotics at Garner?

MR. BERGER: That's one of those new youth hunting categories, the exotic categories. So that's part of the 244 new youth positions that we added.

COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Mike, the youth season, is that in advance of the regular season? How did you space that?

MR. BERGER: No. There are youth seasons in advance and after. These are for drawn hunts. So these can be at any time when the wildlife management area or the state park is open. It's established as a drawn hunt, but specifically indicated for youth throughout the season.

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Other questions?

(No response.)

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: In Section 65 where you set out the recreation use of wildlife management areas, those other uses other than hunting and fishing, are they allowed if they conflict with hunting and fishing, because hunting and fishing is still the priority use?

MR. BERGER: No. It's just like any other thing. When there's those activities are ongoing, unless they're restricted to some park. It's just that the hunting is going on at that time.

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Is it fair to set a separate code of what we do on state parks where the first objective is outdoor recreation in the state park. And then if it doesn't conflict, we allow hunting. In the case of WMA, hunting and fishing, if it doesn't conflict do you allow the other?

MR. BERGER: There's research and demonstration on most wildlife management areas. Hunting is clearly a part of that research and demonstration, yes, sir.

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any other questions for Mike?

(No response.)

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: You need to publish that, don't you?

MR. BERGER: No. We have already published those changes. I'll come with a recommendation to adopt tomorrow. You just need to endorse the state park hunts and open the hunting season so we can have that tomorrow.

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: We'll place it on the agenda for public comment and action tomorrow, if there further questions.

Any other business, Mr. Cook?

MR. COOK: No, sir.

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Mike.

No other business, we're adjourned.

(Whereupon, at 3:15 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: May 24, 2006

I do hereby certify that the foregoing pages, numbers 1 through 64, 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.

6/02/2006

(Transcriber) (Date)


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