Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
Regulations Committee

Aug. 22, 2007

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

BE IT REMEMBERED, that heretofore on the 22nd day of August, 2007, 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: The first order of business is the approval of the previous Committee meeting minutes, which have already been distributed. Is there a motion for approval?

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: I'll move.

COMMISSIONER BROWN: Second.

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

(A chorus of ayes.)

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any opposed?

(No response.)

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: All in favor, got that, okay hearing none, motion carries.

Committee Item Number 1, Land and Water Plan Update. Mr. Cook?

MR. COOK: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. The first item is just an FYI, you'll be hearing more about it in the upcoming meetings, November and January. Legislation enacted by the 80th Texas Legislature requires that TPWD regulate party boats on inland lakes and waterways. The bill requires such boats to be subject to annual inspection; requires the operator of a party boat to be licensed and complete a boat safety course, imposes limits on the number of passengers authorized on the boat at any time, requires party boat operators to maintain a minimum amount of liability insurance.

The bill provides rulemaking authority to the Commission to implement the provisions of the subchapter, including fees, and requires the Commission to adopt such rules no later than January 1, 2008.

No later than January 1, so that means we're going to get it done in the next meeting ‑‑

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes.

MR. COOK: — and this is just sort of a pre-notice.

(Simultaneous discussion.)

MR. COOK: But we are moving forward on that one, and ‑‑ as quickly as we can. Second item, Commissioners are our public dove-hunting lease program which we call our — the Dove Lease. That program will enjoy I believe another great season starting in September. For this season our staff has put together 154 different units across the State that we have leased, totaling over 55,000 acres of land, located in 50 different counties in all parts of the State. Many of the areas are within an hour's drive of a major metropolitan area, which we believe that's part of the success of this program, is getting a good — those good sunflower fields, even if they're just 20 acres or a 100-acre field, accessible, where Mom or Dad can pick up the kid at the end of school and run out and make a couple-hour dove hunt that afternoon, and be back home for dinner. So we're looking for that to be a good one, that ‑‑ I note here they noted that, This year we are proud to have our first lease area in Bexar County. So if it's in Bexar County, you know it's close to a major metropolitan area. So it's a great program, and it looks like we're headed good there.

An interesting note again on our shrimp buy-back program. Which, you all have all followed this program for many years, you know about it. We do aerial counts of shrimp boats that are out in the Bay, active on opening day. Dr. McKinney and his staff have done this for years.

Aerial counts of shrimp boats were conducted in good weather on August 15th. A total of 180 boats were counted, coast-wide. One over the other, which is the lowest count recorded since we began opening day surveys in 1994. The highest fall count was recorded in 1995, was 886 boats out shrimping.

(Simultaneous discussion.)

MR. COOK: — absolutely. 886, this year, 108. Last year we counted 213 active on the opening day. So I think you can see the result of, a combination of things, to be honest. The buy-back program is absolutely having a ‑‑ the intended effect. Also, farm-raised shrimp, as you know, is providing a large part of the shrimp that's sold in the market today, some of those boats are not active, the ones that are licensed. But we are definitely on a good path there, and I think fisheries in the bays and estuaries are going to see a positive plus from that.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Bob, what's the target number?

MR. COOK: Well, and I may have to get Doc to help me out here, but I believe when the program started that the idea was to get the number below 400 active shrimpers, and we're there. Now, there are several hundred shrimper — shrimp boats out there that still are licensed every year.

Seven, eight hundred, Doc? In that range, and I guess if shrimp prices, fuel prices, all of those issues are driving this business.

But you know, we've seen a very clear trend over the last several years of the boats that are actually out shrimping, that are actually out catching shrimp, catching by catch, whatever it is they're catching, has declined dramatically over this period. Doc?

DR. McKINNEY: Just to clarify something. I'm Larry McKinney, Director of Coastal Fisheries. Our goal is about 400 boats, that's what we're talking about, and our licenses now, we're almost reaching about half the available licenses that when the program started, we cut that down to about half.

So we think within this biennium coming up, we'll reach our goals of hitting a sustainable shrimp fishery that doesn't impact that recreational fishery any more than it really has to, and supports both. So we're very excited about reaching this. It's taken us ten years, but we're about to get there and it's a big deal for us, I've got to say —

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Well, we're not trying to eliminate the industry ‑‑

MR. COOK: No, sir.

DR. McKINNEY: Absolutely not. We want an industry that's sustainable out there, that works and that's kind of where we're headed.

MR. COOK: Right.

COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Is there any point, Larry, at which the number of licenses might convert to an IT computer system ‑‑

DR. McKINNEY: That's our next step. Once we get the licenses down — numbers where they should be, the next step is, Okay, how can we — and that's how we make these folks profitable and work, and put in the ‑‑ going into some systems like that, we want to start in the next several years some pilots, on that particular approach. I think that is the way to go.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Well, explain that approach to the ‑‑

DR. McKINNEY: Basically once we reach a certain level in a different bay system or something like that, you have a catch you think is an allowable amount of shrimp in an area.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Right.

DR. McKINNEY: And you have a number of shrimpers, and basically you allocate that catch amongst those shrimpers, and let the market take care of the system after that. We'd like to be in a position where basically we can turn our shrimpers loose and say, Look you do ‑‑ you sell what you can best, bait or food or whatever; you follow these rules, you make the best business decision you can, and go after it.

COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: The problem we've had is, you get licensed to catch a limited amount ‑‑

(Simultaneous discussion.)

COMMISSIONER HOLT: That's been the issue ‑‑

(Simultaneous discussion.)

COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: — ITQ, individual total quality, sets the, biologically sets the amount that's — I mean, allocates who gets a property right to the personal license. So the value creation to them ‑‑ it just was asking ‑‑

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes.

COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: — is just was ‑‑

DR. McKINNEY: We just want to get out of the race to catch the last shrimp, and get people in the situation where they can really compete ‑‑

COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: At some point it seems like we ought to be at a number where there's an incentive, where they will actually create value in the licenses by doing that.

MR. COOK: We're close.

DR. McKINNEY: I think we're about to turn that corner and go there.

MR. BROWN: Dr. McKinney, do we — from a regional standpoint, is that something that we look at as we kind of ‑‑ as we have in the lower Laguna Madre, would we look at possibly, depending on the region, have a different set of rules ‑‑

DR. McKINNEY: I think very likely. I think very likely, even within bay systems, how to make —

MR. BROWN: Yes, that's my point —

DR. McKINNEY: — that's the most — that makes the most sense.

MR. BROWN: Right.

MR. COOK: Doc, as I recall hearing you and Robin talk, shrimping has been good.

DR. McKINNEY: It has, yes. I mean, it's excellent right now. We've had some reports for example of some of the bay boats on this opening day coming back with 1,000 pounds of 25, 26's and that's perfect. So the shrimp are out there, and that's good for everyone.

Of course those shrimp will go offshore, and they're the — a fundamental, a basis for our recreational fisheries. So it's —

MR. COOK: I mention that because of a couple of items. I think, yes, we're down from 886 to 180, but we're seeing, the shrimpers are seeing a benefit themselves.

DR. McKINNEY: Yes.

MR. COOK: The shrimpers that are out there shrimping are catching bigger and more shrimp, and that's positive on both ends. Had a lot of freshwater in the Bay this year also.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes.

DR. McKINNEY: Well, we're going to get a big boost from that down the road. There's never too much rain, as you said earlier.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, that's right.

MR. COOK: Thank you, Doc.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you. And finally, you may recall, Commissioners, that this past spring we held our first statewide alligator season. And there was quite a bit of dancing around among some folks about whether or not that was a good thing or a bad thing. You know, they were required to get a tag, after they harvested the gator, have a license and all of that before they did, and some basic rules and criteria, and our guys are still looking at what happened.

But what happened was, they harvested 167 alligators. That's sport hunters, recreation hunters, and I will tell you that of that 167, and I see Jim, my friend Jim Sutherlin back here from Murphree Wildlife Area who has ‑‑ headed up that program for years ‑‑ a lot of big, big, alligators, in somebody's pond, hanging around somebody's pond. Or you know, wherever they hang out.

But I think overall I've had practically no negative comments. Again, the only negative comments as you may recall were from the folks in that little restricted area down there that sort of had a lock on the board. And again, we're not trying to put them out of business; we're not trying to hurt them in any manner. I don't think the harvest of 167 alligators is going to impact their business, and certainly not going to impact a resource that is now well-established and well-distributed throughout much of the State of Texas.

Some of the biggest gators, and Jim may have to help me out here, were taken down around Choke Canyon. And in the Rio Grande Valley. Big, like 11-footers —

COMMISSIONER HOLT: And 12-footers.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Unlikely places.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, unlikely places.

MR. COOK: Thank you, sir.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you.

Okay, Committee Item Number 2, Statewide Hunting and Fishing Proclamation Rule Amendments. Mike Berger.

MR. BERGER: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. I'm Mike Berger, Wildlife Director. And I have a little matter this morning of I think will increase the safety of some hunting opportunities, and an increase in the efficiency of those opportunities.

House Bill 308, which was enacted in this past Legislature, amended our Code to authorize the use of laser sighting devices by hunters who are legally blind, under the standards of the Government Code.

It made other provisions, that the hunter be accompanied by another licensed hunter aged 13 ‑‑ excuse me ‑‑ another licensed hunter at least aged 13 or older, who is not legally blind. And we're required to adopt rules to prescribe proof of legal blindness, and these rules were published for public comment in the July 6th issue of the Texas Register. We have received so far ten comments on these rules, seven were in favor, and three were in opposition. One opposed said he didn't believe blind people should hunt, and the other one thought that 13 was a little young to accompany a blind hunter.

And of course these people may not necessarily be completely blind, but they are blind — legally blind by the standards of the Government Code. And this laser sighting device will help them, help those who are accompanying them and assisting them in placing a safe and humane shot on our wildlife. So.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Are these like, normal laser sights, or are they some modification of the standard?

MR. BERGER: I think these are laser sights that will ‑‑ can some way be attached to the rifle, and sighted in, much like laser sights that are attached to hand guns today. And will allow — I think what happens now is, the accompanying hunter kind of stands behind the guy and tries to look through the scope, and have him adjust, where now with this projected laser beam out there, he'll be able to more accurately aim the rifle.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Great.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: My understanding is, it's a standard type. You can use it at night like to shoot hogs and that kind of thing.

MR. BERGER: Right.

MR. COOK: In my previous life, I guided some legally blind hunters, and one gentleman who truly loved to hunt, he had an apparatus hooked up where he basically had a double scope, and whoever was with him was pretty much you know, helping him get on target. He could sometimes, depending on light, he could see the image out there. But it's one of those things that certainly we got the great resource here to utilize, and I think the equipment is available today that makes it more effective and easier to handle, and — like, versus the question about 13, I'm not a bit worried about that. That dot gets on the right spot, why ‑‑

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: And also, the 13-year-old's completed our Hunter Safety Program. So.

MR. BERGER: And these — even the blind hunters are required to meet our hunter safety requirements. So.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Increased opportunity.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Exactly. So.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Do we have a motion, to —

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any other discussion?

(No response.)

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay. No other discussion, I'll place this item on the Thursday Commission Meeting Agenda for public comment and action. Thank you.

All right. Committee Item 3, 2007-2008 Migratory Bird Proclamation. Vernon.

MR. BEVILL: Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the Commission. Today, I will brief you on the proposed Migratory Bird Regulations for 2007-2008 waterfowl season.

Habitat conditions where ducks and geese breed were in pretty good shape this year, particularly for waterfowl, for ducks. And we look forward to an expanded fall flight over last year.

Pond counts, which is one of the measures that's taken each year in the prairie pothole country, increased again this year. The red line is the long term average and as you can see, pond counts are well above that long term average.

This is the breeding population survey of the ten most popular ducks, and that red line is again the long term trend, and the breeding population is, for the second year, back up above that long term average.

We got a few changes to propose this year. One is, adding geese to the youth hunting bag, which is the first time we've been able to add geese to that youth hunt. We're shifting some days in the High Plain Mallard Management Unit, from the 16-day teal season, that the High Plain Mallard Management Unit will have a shorter season and we'll move those extra days into the regular duck season.

And we've increased the bag, been able to increase the bag of Canada geese by one in the West Goose Zone, and then the Conservation Goose — the Light Goose Conservation Order will close a little later this year.

For ducks, mergansers and coots, the youth hunts in the High Plain Mallard Management Unit are shown as October 13 and 14; the regular waterfowl season is shown as the weekend of the 20th and 21st; reopens again on the 26th, and hunts to the last Sunday in January.

The High Plain Mallard Management Unit, the red area gets expanded numbers of days over the rest of the State because it — up and down our flyway, the west side is a lightly hunted region. So many years ago, we were able to gain 23 extra hunting days on top of the regular season length, for the High Plain Mallard Management Unit.

For the north and south goose — duck zones, they're basically the same as last year, with the calendar shift they run concurrently with each other. We have again for the tenth consecutive year the liberal duck package, which is unprecedented.

And so we operate the east side of the State, although in two zones, the same days are proposed. If we ever go back to a shorter duck season, that's when the zones really become important to us, in maximizing our opportunity as ducks migrate north and south.

The bag limit is again similar to last year. I would point out to the Commissioners that we are entering the second year of what we call our Hunter's Choice Bag, which is an aggregate bag where hunters can take one of any of the species including mallard hens, pintail, canvasback, or what we call dusky ducks, which would be our mottled duck, black duck or the Mexican duck that occurs in parts of West Texas.

For the East Goose Zone, all of the goose seasons open on the same date, November 3rd. We are proposing again as we have done in the past to have a two white-front bag limit, and when we asked for — the Feds for a two white-front bag limit, that requires us to have only a 72-day season for white-fronts, where we have longer seasons for the other species. So that season closes on January 13th instead of January 27th.

For the Western Goose Zone we have a Light Goose season and Dark Goose season opening concurrently and running concurrently. We have achieved a one Canada Goose increase in the bag limit for the West Goose Zone, so that's a little plus for our hunters out there.

The Light Goose Conservation Order will open immediately after all of the other waterfowl season closes, so in the West Goose Zone it opens on the 6th of February and runs through the 30th of March, and in the East it opens on the 28th of January and runs through the 30th of March.

Our Sandhill Crane season is broken out by three zones, A, B, and C and those zone seasons are a little bit different based on the migration of whooping cranes. Zone B and C open and close a little differently based on that, and — as shown in this slide (indicating).

And that concludes my presentation, I'd be glad to answer any questions that you might have. Yes.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Do you have any numbers on the late season light goose take?

MR. BEVILL: We do, and I don't have them on the top of my head, but I can certainly provide those for you.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: I mean, is it — I guess where I'm going with that is, how effective is that —

MR. BEVILL: We saw some data during the Waterfowl Council meeting this year that indicated that the Light Goose numbers are beginning to come down a little bit. And we had — we have a real opportunity I'm told, we were discussing this back in July at the Council meeting, we have a real opportunity to make a more significant impact on that Light Goose harvest this year, because it was a poor hatch. And the hunters generally take the dumbest of the lot. And that's not the 20-year-old Light Goose that's made this trek multiple times. It's that first-time flier that doesn't know some of the tricks of the trade.

So it was a poor hatch, it was late spring's in the Arctic breeding areas, and so we will — on the bad side, we will be facing the smartest of them, but on the good side, we think we can bring that number down a little bit. The problem still exists; the problem will continue to exist for a long time.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: And so the — I can't remember if it was — I think it was when I was on the Migratory Advisory Committee, when you showed the slides of the incredible devastation up in Canada from their breeding ground. And how has that improved or changed?

MR. BEVILL: Well, that devastation on the west Shore of Hudson Bay still exists; there's still a low number, lower numbers of breeding geese in that area, and lower numbers of other breeding birds because of the impact of the goose population on that fragile habitat.

Some of that damage has expanded to other areas in the Arctic, where Light Geese have expanded breeding colonies, so you know, it's still our challenge —

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Right.

MR. BEVILL: — to bring that population down. But ‑‑ and in that country, just like our desert country, recovery is a long, long time in coming. A lot of that coastal environment gets ‑‑ it's salty; real — when you remove the vegetation and the ground dries out, it turns to a salt flat.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Right.

MR. BEVILL: And you don't grow much on salt flat.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: No. Thank you.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Parker?

COMMISSIONER PARKER: Vernon, would you share with all of the Commissioners the conversation that you and I and some other Ducks Unlimited people have been having regarding the pintail and the scaup.

MR. BEVILL: Yes, sir. I'll be glad to ‑‑

COMMISSIONER PARKER: Because I think this is very important for all ‑‑

MR. BEVILL: — of the ten species of ducks that we monitor populations on, pintail and scaup are the ones that we kind of monitor the closest, and seem to have the most problem in responding to habitat. So we are looking at those real close; we met with the Service Regulations Committee in early August; we concluded that we would have a scaup harvest that included the two birds in the bag again this year; all four flyways are required to come back to the Service next year with a harvest management plan for each flyway, and look at the scaup issue.

These are — and pintail, the same thing. Pintail numbers are about what they were last year, and pintail has been a bird that has been hurting ever since the prairie dried up in the '80s, and have not responded as well as others.

Pintails are also very hard to count. And so when you look at the breeding population on pintail, it certainly represents a very minimum number of birds on the ‑‑ in the breeding population.

We — because we have chosen this ‑‑ the Central Flyway chose this Hunter Choice approach to dealing with low number, low stocks of birds, and putting an aggregate bag together where you can only take one, we are protecting pintails in the Central Flyway.

They are — the pintail allowable in the other three flyways is one bird per day. So we're doing our best to protect the pintails, and we think we're doing an adequate job. The Service wouldn't be allowing us what they allow us if they were very concerned.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any other questions or discussion? Commissioner Montgomery?

COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Vernon, I've heard six years you give this presentation, I've always admired your knowledge and facility and I've got a question every time I hear it, I'm going to ask. How many people go out and shoot 15 coots a day?

(Laughter.)

MR. BEVILL: There's probably a few, in South Louisiana.

(Laughter.)

MR. BEVILL: Because they have a recipe for them.

COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: They have a recipe.

(Simultaneous discussion.)

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Cook 'em for three days.

(Simultaneous discussion.)

MR. COOK: I saw that, 15 — a while ago and I looked over, when I saw that 15-coot limit a while ago and I looked over at old Durocher and he's just a'grinning.

MR. BEVILL: I had an uncle that killed about 20 of them one time, many, many years ago when it was 25. So I do have that ‑‑

(Laughter.)

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any other questions? Commissioner Parker?

COMMISSIONER PARKER: I'll put this in the public record. There are people from Southwest Louisiana that come to Lake Sam Rayburn and Livingston Lake and do nothing but shoot coots. And they only — the only harvested part of that bird is the liver and the gizzard. That's it.

(Simultaneous discussion.)

MR. BEVILL: I may make a little coot jerky —

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Boy, that's — you know what they eat ‑‑

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Exactly. Okay, any other discussion or questions?

COMMISSIONER PARKER: I've watched them clean them.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, you've watched. Right?

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: All right I will — no further questions or discussion, I'll place this item on the Thursday Commission Meeting Agenda for public comment and action.

MR. BEVILL: Mr. Chairman — I'm sorry.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Sir.

MR. BEVILL: Thank you for the opportunity. I just want to comment that I've known Bob Cook for over 30 years. We go back to when we were both real biologists ‑‑

MR. COOK: That was a long time ago —

(Laughter.)

MR. BEVILL: That was a long time ago, and I wouldn't be here in Texas if it weren't for Bob Cook.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: That's nice.

MR. BEVILL: And I've been here for 15 years. And I'm — I've always admired Bob's savvy and insights into all matters related to wildlife, and I will miss him.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: We all will.

(Simultaneous discussion.)

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Now, you're not heading out with him, are you?

MR. BEVILL: No, sir.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Good.

(Laughter.)

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any other business?

(No response.)

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay. This committee has completed its business and we'll move on to the Conservation Committee.

(Whereupon, at 11:00 a.m., the meeting was concluded.)

C E R T I F I C A T E

MEETING OF: Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
Regulations Committee
LOCATION: Austin, Texas
DATE: August 22, 2007

I do hereby certify that the foregoing pages, numbers 1 through 24, 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.

8/31/07
(Transcriber) (Date)
On the Record Reporting, Inc.
3307 Northland, Suite 315
Austin, Texas 78731


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